Posts Tagged 'music'



Darcy Stanley: Seasonal Settings for Worship

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Darcy Stanley

Guest post by Darcy Stanley introducing her new collection of sacred piano music, Seasonal Settings for Worship. Stanley, a composer, arranger, lyricist and orchestrator, has published many choral works, solo and duet arrangements, piano arrangements and orchestrations. As a pianist, she has been designated Permanent Professional Certified Teacher of Music in Piano from Music Teachers National Association, and has served as adjudicator for various music festivals and piano competitions. Stanley worked as adjunct music professor at Faith Baptist Bible College for 15 years, teaching piano and Choral Writing and Arranging. She and her husband, Tim, live in Greenville, SC, where she is pianist and director of orchestra and instrumental ensembles at Cornerstone Baptist Church.

 

SeasonalSettingsForWorshipLet everything that has breath praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:6) I have had the joy of praising the Lord through music since I was a child. As a little girl, I found great joy in playing the piano and singing for anyone who would listen. My sweet grandfather was my favorite and most frequent audience!

Many years have passed since those early days, and I am thankful for the numerous opportunities I have had to serve the Lord and praise Him with music. Serving as church pianist for most of my adult life has given me an appreciation of the importance of music in worship services. Pianists need to be prepared with more than just a few of their favorite hymns. Special services and occasions require music that will specifically enhance the worship service with an intentional purpose.

I have enjoyed preparing this collection of piano arrangements to meet the needs for various occasions of the church year. I love the great hymns that I have been singing since childhood. I have written arrangements of some of my favorites and have given them a fresh sound, while still keeping them in a style that fits the lyrics.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come before His presence with singing! (Psalm 100:1-2) It is my desire that you will sing the words of these great hymns in your heart as you play them. May you find great joy in giving glory to God in all that you do!

 

Listen to two of the hymns from Seasonal Settings for Worship, “Just As I Am” and “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today,” here:

A Short Foray into Beethoven’s Variations

Guest post by Dr. Dominik Rahmer, editor at G. Henle Verlag.

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The formal technique of “variations” played an important role in Beethoven’s work throughout his entire life. Critic Paul Bekker wrote in 1911, “Beethoven begins with variations,” and indeed this is true not only of the character of his oeuvre, but also of its chronological progression: Beethoven’s very first published work was his 9 Variations on a March by Dressler, WoO 63, which appeared in 1782.

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Dressler Variations, WoO 63: Beginning of the Theme

Similarly, we could add that Beethoven also ends with variations. The Diabelli Variations, Op. 120, which are amongst his last piano works, not only crown his creativity, but also, in the history of piano variations, are probably equaled only by Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

The panoply of variations within his multi-movement works also indicates how fundamental this technique is in Beethoven’s musical thinking. Consider, for example, the profound closing movement of the last piano sonata, Op. 111, or the grand finale of the 3rd Symphony.

Though the themes of these movements were usually Beethoven’s own inventions, here we will focus on the pieces composed as independent variation sets on popular melodies. This vantage point reveals some interesting finds.

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Countess Josephine von Clary-Aldringen (1777-1828)

It lets us see, for example, that Beethoven composed variations for the mandolin. In 1796 Beethoven composed his Andante with 6 Variations, WoO 44b, together with other short pieces for mandolin and piano, for the Countess Josephine von Clary-Aldringen, who played the instrument. Incidentally, these variations can also be played unmodified on the violin, thereby constituting an ideal (and easier) addition to Beethoven’s only “real” variations for the violin, the 12 Variations for Violin on “Se vuol ballare” by Mozart, WoO 40.

The vast majority of Beethoven’s variations were, however, written for piano solo, which was an ideal vehicle for Beethoven, one of the greatest piano virtuosos of his time, to present his own pianistic and compositional skills to audiences. His 24 Variations on “Venni Amore” by Vincenzio Righini, WoO 65, require so much technical skill that when he visited the renowned pianist Franz Xaver Sterkel in 1791, Sterkel declared these variations too difficult. In response, Beethoven not only performed his complete composition at the piano from memory, but, to the astonishment of the listeners, also virtuosically improvised further variations on the theme.

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Variations on “Venni Amore,” WoO 65: Beginning of the 9th Variation

Amongst the more pianistically demanding works of this kind are the 7 Variations on “Kind, willst du ruhig schlafen,” WoO 75, a canzonetta from an opera by the now almost entirely forgotten composer Peter von Winter. The opening of the text could be reminiscent of a kind of lullaby, though not at all suited to the coquettish melody in 2/4 time.

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Variations on “Kind, willst du ruhig schlafen,” WoO 75

And, in fact, it’s actually a facetious song by three girls wanting to talk a friend out of her heartache:

Child! If you’d easily sleep,
Follow my custom,
And flirt, just as with monkeys,
Also with the men:
Tease and taunt them.

Don’t let them steal your heart!
This is not clever.
False are the souls of men,
Treach’rous, full of scams:
Nobody’s good for anything.
[…]

The German libretto of this “heroic-comic” opera, which takes place in the Peruvian Inca period, can be found here in the Bavarian State Library digital collections.

Among Beethoven’s collection of variations is also a shorter piece for piano trio, Variations in E-Flat Major, Op. 44, which stands as an alternative to the more widely known 10 Variations on “Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu,” Op. 121a. The former is based on “Ja, ich muss mich von ihr scheiden,” a jealous husband’s irate aria from Dittersdorf’s misleadingly titled opera, Das Rote Käppchen (Little Red Cap). This opera has nothing to do with the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood, but instead is a marriage farce about a young woman suffering from her elderly husband’s morbid jealousy, curing him of it with a trick: an allegedly miraculous red cap.

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Count Ferdinand Ernst von Waldstein (1762-1823)

Another lesser-known piece among this collection of variations is the 8 Variations on a Theme by Count Waldstein, WoO 67, named for Count Ferdinand Ernst von Waldstein, to whom the famous “Waldstein” Sonata (Sonata No. 21 in C Major, Op. 53), was dedicated. Waldstein was Beethoven’s first important patron in Bonn and sponsored the young composer’s trip to Vienna in 1792, but he also played the piano well and even personally contributed the theme (possibly improved upon by Beethoven) for this set of variations.

The 6 National Airs with Variations, Op. 105, and 10 National Airs with Variations, Op. 107, both based on catchy folk melodies, also offer a treasure trove of pretty variations that are often overlooked. Though the pieces require an accomplished piano player, the flute part, which can also be performed on the violin, is deliberately kept simple and could very well be mastered even by younger students. Moreover, since Beethoven’s flute part was added only ad libitum at the request of the person commissioning them, these variations can also be performed as piano solos — an ideal short, smart encore for a Beethoven piano recital.

Even after 250 years of Beethoven, there is still so much to discover in his oeuvre!

Sightreading. Solved.

FPALogoNancy and Randall Faber are pleased to announce the release of their newest digital support tool, the Piano Adventure Sightreading Coach. This innovative technology provides immediate feedback and assessment, making it the perfect companion to the Piano Adventures Sightreading books.

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The Sightreading Coach “listens” to the student play along with the score, and instantly grades rhythm and pitch by highlighting incorrect notes and rhythms. Students can practice the exercise as often as they wish, and upload their best performance to the teacher in between lessons. Teachers can monitor student progress without using valuable lesson time, making at-home practice more accurate and efficient.

The app is free to teachers, and contains all the exercise from nine progressive levels in the Piano Adventures Sightreading libraryPrimer, Levels 1, 2A, 2B, 3A, 3B, 4, and Accelerated Levels 1 and 2. These carefully composed variations on the Lesson Book pieces help students see the “new” against the background of the “familiar.” Students play one exercise per day, completing one set per week.

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The Sightreading Coach can be used with any piano or keyboard. No cables are required. Access online with the Chrome web browser, or on mobile with iOS and Android apps. Teachers sign up for free, and invite parents and students to the app. Each student is just $2/month after a 30-day free trial. Learn more and download Faber’s Quick Start Guide.

Pepper Choplin: Once upon a Morning – From Resurrection to Pentecost

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Pepper Choplin

Guest post by composer Pepper Choplin introducing his new cantata, Once upon a Morning: From Resurrection to Pentecost. Choplin is known as one of the most creative writers in church music today. With a diverse musical background, Choplin incorporates varied styles such as folk, Gospel, classical, and jazz. His published works include over 300 anthems for church and school choir with 20 church cantatas and two books of piano arrangements, and over 120 groups have commissioned him to write original works for them. Since 1991, his choral music has sold several million copies. Choplin has conducted eight New York concerts of his music at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center with 250 voices and full orchestra. In his hometown of Raleigh, he has conducted eight mass performances of his cantatas at Meymandi Auditorium (home to the NC Symphony) with over two hundred voices and orchestra. In 2019, he conducted Handel’s Messiah (Christmas portion) with the 150-voice Cary Community Choir with orchestra. He also visits many schools, churches and conferences to conduct and to entertain. 

 

OnceUponAMorningI always wanted to write this cantata. Then a church in Pennsylvania commissioned me to write a spring cantata outside of the typical Easter work. For a year, I surveyed directors and singers about different potential subjects. This idea got them most excited.

I loved writing this cantata. These wonderful stories don’t receive much attention in church music. Yet, they contain so much drama and passion.

Just before I began, I saw the musical Hamilton. While there is not a word of rap here, Hamilton gave me courage to write with more fire, using plenty of text and rhythm.

“Once Upon a Morning” (Easter) — This musical sunrise leads us to celebrate the Resurrection: “When the stone was rolled away surely death had lost its prey to the miracle of life!” Note the pairing of the main theme with the “Easter Hymn.” There is just enough here to lead the congregation to sing the hymn afterward.

“Why Do You Seek the Living Among the Dead?” (Easter) — This piece drives to capture the excitement of this powerful question. It also says, “Go and tell the others that Jesus is alive,” and quotes the “Easter Hymn.”

“Didn’t Our Hearts Burn Within Us?” (after Easter) — I’ve always thought this was the most powerful quote from the Emmaus road. This ballad tells the story, then encourages the listener to let the word live within us all. It is very inspiring with a hint of gospel to move the heart.

“Thomas Believes” (after Easter) — This dramatic musical dialogue leads through Thomas’s transition from doubt to full belief. Sung with one or two soloists, the choir takes on the role of the disciples. It concludes with a great celebration of faith.

“Blessed Are the Ones Who Believe” (appropriate anytime) — This simple statement by Christ is a profound expression of encouragement. After the drama of the previous piece, it has a comforting chorale feel: “Blessed are the ones…who live their lives with faith and follow in my way; who dare to believe in the Resurrection and the Life.”

“Cast Your Nets” (appropriate anytime) — “Try something that you haven’t tried. Cast your nets on the other side.” I’ve already heard from people in the studio and churches where I’ve sung this hearty call. They remark at how they were inspired to listen to Christ’s words and take a chance on a new direction. Many of our churches need to cast their nets on the other side.

“He Is Lifted Up” (appropriate anytime) — This boisterous fanfare proclaims the text with rapid-fire rhythm. I don’t see many anthems focusing on the powerful event of the Ascension. It uses a Hebrews passage to celebrate the Lordship of Christ. The anthem drives to the end with a final celebration carried by the tune used most commonly for “Like a River Glorious.” It is so triumphant that it could be used as the finale with Day of Pentecost being sung at another time.

“Day of Pentecost” — Through the high energy rhythm you can visualize the rushing wind and the tongues of fire. It leads to Peter’s bold sermon, quoting Joel, “Your sons and daughters will rise. They will boldly prophesy.” The “Easter Hymn” tune appears again to carry the Spirit text. The congregation is encouraged to sing, “Holy Spirit, come today. Alleluia! Through Your power, we will say, ‘Alleluia.’”

Watch Pepper Choplin in the studio conducting the orchestra during the recording of Once Upon a Morning:

Tim Topham: The Ultimate Piano Teaching Conference

Guest post by Tim Topham, host of the popular Creative Piano Teaching Podcast.

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Well, this is super exciting news. After months of planning, we are just weeks away from Piano Pivot Live, my very own piano teaching conference here in Melbourne.

I’ve spoken and been to conferences for years now.

If you’ve been to a piano teaching conference, chances are you probably learnt quite a few things.

But there was probably room for even more professional growth.

Meet the speakers: Here are my fabulous keynote speakers for Piano Pivot Live

That’s why I’m going to do things a bit differently at Piano Pivot Live 2020.

It’s going to be a two-day conference that features the lot — workshops, teaching and of course tips on how to run your business.

I’ve hand-picked each presenter, and I’ve seen them all speak before so I know they’re fantastic. I’ve also included masterminding sessions so that you can make action plans right away…and much more.

Dual Focus: Business and Teaching

One of the big differences I think at Piano Pivot Live is going to be the dual focus on piano teaching and also business.

As teachers, we often start with that early on. We feel more comfortable teaching and being at the piano than we are with running a business.

This is where we let ourselves down — we can be a bit lazy with the administrative side or just don’t know enough about how to run a business and can actually miss out on maximising our income.

That’s why at my piano teaching conference, I want to put a big focus on piano teaching business as well as creative teaching techniques.

A well-paid, happy studio owner makes a happy piano teacher.

You will leave this conference excited and with actionable ideas you can implement RIGHT AWAY.

It’s unlike any conference you’ve been to before!

One-Stream, Group Learning

If you’ve been to a multi-day piano teaching conference, you know how crazy it can be trying to fit everything in

Sometimes, you just can’t.

Sessions clash or you don’t have the time to fit it all in.

Well, at Piano Pivot Live you won’t be forced to pick between presentations!

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Our one-stream event setup means we all share two days together, and listen and learn from each other.

Also, the presentations will not be passive.

Learn by listening and by doing. Experience workshops, live teaching, masterminds and implementation sessions.

Rub shoulders with some of the world’s most creative and innovative teachers.

Speakers and Presenters

As you might have guessed, I will be your host!

But I’ve also enlisted the help of some of the world’s brightest music minds to bring you the best in music pedagogy.

I have amazing keynote speakers in Samantha Coates, Carly McDonald, Philip Johnston and Anita Collins.

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The wonderful Nicola Cantan, Joyce Ong, Paul Myatt and others will also be speaking and presenting at the event.

There are a few different types of presentations you can expect at Piano Pivot Live from these wonderful speakers.

  • Keynote presentations: You can’t have a conference without some keynote speakers sharing their wealth of knowledge with you.
  • Live teaching: Watch me teach a student live on stage! You will see exactly how I teach creatively on stage for 30 minutes.
  • Masterminds, Fireside Chats and Panel Events: Connect with other teachers and share your knowledge in our mastermind sessions, guided by a topic expert. Ask your questions to our panel of experts. We’re here to help you.
  • Practical workshops: Sometimes you just have to DO things. After learning a variety of pedagogy and business techniques, you will brainstorm ways to implement them so you can leave the conference with an action plan.

More Information

To find out more about Piano Pivot Live 2020 and to grab your ticket, just click on the button below.

I’m so excited for you to share in what will be an incredible learning experience.

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TimTopham.jpgTim Topham has one mission in life: to stem the tide of children quitting music lessons by helping teachers maximise student engagement through creativity, technology and innovation. Tim hosts the popular Creative Piano Teaching Podcast, blogs regularly at topmusic.co and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as pedagogy, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, Californian Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.

Lee & Susan Dengler: A Holy Week Cantata Reflecting on Sacrifice and Sorrow

Guest post by composers Lee & Susan Dengler introducing their new Holy Week cantata, When Darkness Comes. Lee and Susan are the authors of over 400 choral anthems, cantatas and vocal and piano solo collections that are used worldwide. They have served as music leaders in churches, and have taught music on the elementary, high school and college levels. Both are professional singers and have performed in recitals, operas, oratorios and musicals. They reside in Goshen, Indiana.

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Lee Dengler & Susan Naus Dengler

Easter was in mid-April that year. We who work in church music are relieved when Easter comes that late in the season, allowing adequate time to prepare for the music of Lent and Easter.

However, there was a lot going on in our house back then. We were awaiting the birth of our second child. The due date was April 1. Because of church responsibilities, we hoped that this baby would arrive on time. Rebecca Joy only made us wait two extra days before she appeared on the scene. Even though Palm Sunday was only two days later, we could fulfill our Holy Week responsibilities without too much stress.

There were, however, a few things that we hadn’t counted on. First, Lee had only recently begun a new daytime job. Also, we had no idea what it would mean to care for a newborn in addition to our firstborn son, Jason, who was only 18 months old. And then Susan contracted the nasty virus that was making its way through our community. All this would have been enough to overwhelm two young adults, but then Lee’s grandfather, Grandpop Dengler, was suddenly confronted with critical health problems — problems from which he never recovered. Although there were many things for us to be happy about, Holy Week that year was also tinged with some personal darkness.

Ready or not, the week that marked Jesus’s journey to the cross arrives on an annual basis, whether our lives are bathed in joyous light or mired in shadows. Whatever the case, this holiest of weeks affords us the opportunity to truly experience what we believe as followers of the One who faced the darkness of the cross for our sakes. It is a time to place the hope of Jesus’s resurrection against the backdrop of death and grief.

Quiet reflection allows us to move from the somber moments of Christ’s sacrifice to a most joyful celebration of Easter. Daily disciplines, such as reading the Gospels and contemplative walking, can help us focus our minds. Praying the “Lord’s Prayer” or the 23rd Psalm can be excellent models for our prayers during these days. Listening to music, such as Handel’s Messiah or hymns that speak of Christ’s Passion, can also help to lead us to the light and hope of His victory over death.

WhenDarknessComesIndeed, music has always served as a perfect vehicle to enhance our observance of Holy Week. It has been our personal privilege to create some of the music and texts that portray the sacrifice that Jesus endured for our sakes. In recent months, we have considered the deep darkness that our Savior knew during those days — the physical darkness of that Thursday evening, and the spiritual and emotional darkness of His trial and crucifixion on Friday. This was the greatest darkness the world has ever known. What a blessing to consider that the one who willingly faced this time of profound darkness is with us when we experience dark times in our own lives. Out of these thoughts came our new cantata, When Darkness Comes.

This 20-minute work can be used in a variety of ways to enhance your Holy Week worship. Included are suggestions for the extinguishing of candles for a Tenebrae style service, and for PowerPoint visuals that can be displayed throughout the course of the presentation. A communion service might be an excellent preface to the cantata’s presentation. Options for congregational participation make it possible for everyone to be involved in the retelling of this story. It is our sincere prayer that When Darkness Comes will prove to be a most meaningful part of your congregation’s Holy Week experience.

For more insight into the composers’ inspiration for the cantata and to listen to excerpts, watch this digital reading session:

Sky Macklay: The Process & Joy of Subversive Humor

ManyManyCadencesOver the summer we found some time to connect over Skype with composer, oboist, installation artist and professor Sky Macklay, who was in the middle of what sounded like a truly magnificent residency at Civitella Ranieri in Umbertide, Italy. Macklay’s work, especially her chamber music and intermedia pieces, has been receiving more and more attention recently, especially in light of her 2017 Grammy nomination for “Many Many Cadences,” a chamber piece written for Spektral Quartet and appearing on their 2016 album, Serious Business.

The measured but sincerely eager thoughtfulness that Macklay employs in conversation about her art is also a key component of her work, which simultaneously revels in playfulness and freedom. The themes and concepts covered by her oeuvre, whether sociopolitical or linguistic or purely sonic, are almost as expansive as the tools she employs to explore them and convey her perspective on them. Her curiosity seems to be matched only by her omnivorous gravitational pull on the world around her: everything is on the table to explore via every means she can get her hands on. And the results are surprising, head-turning, eye-opening — and continuously exciting.

Leonard Bernstein, in his February 1959 Young People’s Concert titled “Humor in Music,” deemed surprise and shock to be the crucial element in all humor, including musical humor. This allows humor to strip the daunting sacred pillars of society and culture of their power and bring them back to reality. This sort of humor is at the heart of Macklay’s work, which simultaneously subverts the established traditions and insists on saying something new through her own strong voice.

Macklay’s website is loaded with fantastic videos of her work, and watching those is, of course, a much better introduction to what promises to be an incredible and lauded career than any words we can use to describe it. We have, however, included a transcript of our interview (edited for content) so that you can also get to know her through her own words.

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Sky Macklay

Sheet Music Plus (SMP): How would you describe yourself as a composer?

Sky Macklay (SM): I see myself as a composer in the experimental contemporary Western art music tradition. I write music for all kinds of different ensembles — chamber ensembles, orchestras, choirs, theatrical music, and intermedia music that combines different art forms like video and electronics. More often I write chamber music because I enjoy working with individuals who are my friends. We can have deep collaborations and try new things.

Some of the topics that my music often touches on or the musical interest that my music deals with are oftentimes process. I’m a very process-oriented composer. I want the listener to hear transparently — hear what’s going on the piece, that is, hear a sound go through a transformation that they can follow over the course of the piece. I often use tonality in more experimental or surreal ways combining different tonal systems or blurring tonal harmony in a way that is reminiscent but yet new. I often incorporate humor and theatricality and extremes into my music.

SMP: You’re talking about chamber music and what sounds like almost a collaborative process between you as a composer and the instrumentalists. How does your experience as an instrumentalist inform that, and what do you find productive about the dialogic element?

SM: Being a performer myself is, of course, insightful. I just finished a piece for saxophone and electronics. It’s actually for sopranino sex and bari sax (but with only one sax player who starts on sopranino and switches to bari) and with electronics. It’s for my friend and collaborator, Ryan Muncy, who’s a saxophonist with International Contemporary Ensemble. We’ve known each other for several years, so I’ve heard him play a lot and heard him improvise and heard the intense and extreme sounds that he is gravitating towards. That gives me inspiration and opens up new ideas that maybe I wouldn’t have thought of entirely on my own.

In that particular case, I was exploring a psychoacoustic phenomenon called difference tones. If you have one frequency that is 2000Hz coming from one sound source and another one that’s, say, 1500Hz coming from a different sound source, theoretically you’ll hear another tone that’s 500Hz (the difference between the two frequencies). If you use certain conditions that are really good for hearing difference tones, it sounds very localized in the ear. I wanted to create these particular patterns with difference tones, but I needed to test it and see if it actually worked. I tested it with my oboe and with the electronics. With an oboe, I could get a similar range to the sopranino saxophone, and from doing that it just evolved. I ended up like playing it on the oboe so much that I realized I could also make an oboe version of the piece. I actually think that’s what I’m going to do because through the experimentation process I realized it works really well.

Another example is a piece I recently wrote for andPlay, which is a violin/viola duo. It was very connected to the biographies of the particular individuals and to their friendship. It has a video part on YouTube that has little avatars for each of them, and they go around on maps to different parts of New York City. It’s based on the places that they really go in real life, but if you zoom out, it’s also about the bigger picture, talking about public transportation, in general, and how we measure time, and how it feels different based on whether you’re stuck in traffic or on the subway or waiting when the train is delayed. It’s a very individual story, a very specific personal story, but hopefully with resonance to anyone because there are bigger themes involved.

SMP: I’m interested in how you approach music as a medium. It seems like it’s just a piece of the puzzle for you. For instance, with the “Harmonibots” installation, the entire piece is interactive: the music is a piece of it, but then there is a physical interaction with the installation, as well as a visual-spatial-architectural element. Then with the piece you describe earlier, there’s the personal narrative and the video piece in addition to the music. How do you see music interacting with these other artistic media?

SM: I’m a very conceptual composer, and sometimes that manifests in purely a psych concept, but sometimes it spreads beyond the bounds of sound like in the cases of my installations “Harmonibots” and “MEGA-ORGAN,” my piece with video maps of friendship, and, for example, some pieces include text or are intermedia in that they’re semantically engaging with language. “Lessina Levlin Levite Lavora,” for instance, is about different birth control methods, and it uses reactions from different people online talking about the different side effects.

In the case of “Harmonibots,” it started as a sonic idea, but it’s intimately related with how that sound is produced. With instruments, a composer is always thinking about how the sound is produced physically. With harmonicas the sound is produced by just blowing through the reeds. You don’t need to have a special embouchure. I was inspired for those pieces by seeing the wacky, arm-waving tube people advertising car dealerships, and I was thinking about whether the air blowing through them would be enough to make a harmonica vibrate.

Robotic instruments are also an interesting concept. Is there any advantage to have robots playing an instrument versus humans. For particular musical situations there are advantages if you want an instrument to do something that humans can’t do (like hundreds of harmonicas playing at the same time for an hour straight). I thought of that as creating this instrument doing something that humans can’t do, and it evolved into this interactive space where anyone could come in and improvise and play any instrument by squishing the sculptures instead of how you traditionally play a harmonica.

When I have an idea, sometimes it needs to grow beyond the bounds of only sound and be an intermedia piece, meaning different kinds of media are integral to the whole.

SMP: Between the advertising tube men and experiences with birth control you mentioned earlier, as well as the different sounds of language that you explore in “Alabama Gala,” for instance, it seems like you’re drawing inspiration from all of these different sources around you. How does that process happen for you?

SM: I usually have a moment of inspiration that gives me a tiny, little seed of an idea, and then I have to work it out and think it through and develop it. I think I am lucky that sometimes I do get inspired out of the blue by some idea, and it can come from things I encounter in life or personal experience. No composer or artist is in a vacuum. You have a lot of influences coming at you. But then, of course, turning an idea into a piece is the hard part because it’s all in the craftspersonship and executing it well. To me it’s really important to have a strong concept and a strong execution.

And then if I need to write a piece and I don’t have an idea already, sometimes I’ll write the instruments down on staff paper and meditate on the instruments themselves and whether those particular instruments want to say anything to each other.

Sometimes I have to write proposals for pieces before I’ve even written the pieces, then I’ll go back to it later and have to figure out how to use that in the piece. You come up with ideas, and then you’re not really sure what will end up making it into the piece, but some stuff does make it into the piece.

SMP: How does the proposal process affect your composing? There’s something very natural about sound and how pitch and rhythm are physiologically innate to the human experience, but then putting those concepts into language is tough because it’s already a level of abstraction away from that. And then once a proposal is accepted, you have to return to that language to ensure that you’re fulfilling that proposal with the sounds you create. Does that mediation of language have any effect on your process and the work that results from it?

SM: I’m a very verbal person, and when I’m first brainstorming ideas for a piece, I write down words and sentences describing what I want to do so I don’t forget what I’m thinking of. Those words might mean nothing if someone else read them because I write in my own language so that I know what I’m talking about.

In general, I think that, being a composer, it’s good to be able to describe your music to other people, and I’m very grateful that other people are interested in my music and want to know more about it. I think I’ve become better at talking about it and explaining it in words. Trying to continually find the language to explain my music is helpful because if I can describe it to someone else, I can identify my own habits, values, and musical techniques and also the materials that I’m drawn to that make my music personal. It’s helpful to be self-reflective and know what makes my music me. Then I can build on those things and hopefully further hone my own voice. I think being able to put it into words helps me hone my own voice.

SMP: When you say you’re “process-oriented,” can you define what that means to you?

SM: When I think about process music or process-oriented composers, in general, I think of Arvo Pärt, who goes through a certain number of repetitions, and he has a very clear formula for the way a piece progresses. Maybe the duration of notes is doubled or halved. Steve Reich is another process-oriented composer.

To me the most important thing is setting up rules for the piece and then following through with them in a way that is predictable. Some composers do that in a way that is not necessarily that audible to the listener, but I like to do that in a way that the listener can hopefully hear and follow.

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For example, I have a violin and piano piece called “FastLowHighSlow.” The concept of the piece is that it’s four different modules that are each sixty or ninety seconds long, and they’re extremes of the instruments and the extremes in speed. There’s a module that’s high and fast in the piano and high and slow in the violin, and then there’s one that’s low and slow in the piano and low and fast in the violin. So those four modules can all go together, and the process of the piece is that it cycles through all of the possible combinations of those modules to create the different movements. I hope that by the end the listeners realize that they had heard those parts before but in different movements, and now they’re together. That’s what I’m hoping for: a moment of clarity and discovery when the audience hears my process. And I’m hoping that the process also results in beautiful sounds and gestures that work on the micro level but also have this satisfying formal arc because of the process.

SMP: On one hand, you delve into social justice issues, and then on the other hand, there’s a certain playfulness in your work, whether it’s in your installations or in your different explorations of sound. In one way or another, both of those take on the “establishment,” whether you’re confronting it from a social perspective or you’re devising ways to take on and play with the pillars of creation dictated by the institution. It’s a sort of border or outsider perspective because if you are “the institution,” you can’t play with the dictates of the institution. Can you talk about where that comes from, and how you think of these different power dynamics?

SM: I think that’s a keen observation because it’s totally true.

I feel part of a whole community that does outsider critique of more conservative mainstream classical music and the canon of Western art music. I and most of my friends and colleagues love Western art music and classical music, but it also has a lot of baggage in being a hegemonic canon that excludes so much music and new voices and other people. It just doesn’t include so much of humanity. I think I and a lot of my colleagues, by playing very experimental music and very free, expressive things, are expressing what we want to hear and play.

It’s also subversive because it’s putting into action these rebellious practices and sounds. I see myself in that vein being a little rebellious and a little trickstery. It comes very naturally to me.

In my teaching and in my music, I try to expand the world that I’m part of and get more perspectives and more people involved. For me personally in my voice, it oftentimes comes through as juxtaposing humor and serious topics.

SMP: When you say that it comes naturally to you, why do you think that is?

SM: First of all, I’m a very open person. I’m ok with sharing personal stuff with people I don’t know that well. Part of being a composer, I think, is that you’ve got to be comfortable sharing your hard-created ideas with other people and being open to criticism. To me that’s not just notes and sounds. It extends to more broad information and ideas about myself.

One of the ways that I really engage with art and with the world is through humor. I find it very powerful. The art that I’m attracted to is often humorous in a smart way and weirdly humorous. One of my favorite performers I’ve found over the past few years is the comedian Maria Bamford. She tells extremely uncomfortable personal truths about mental illness, but her humor is also very avant-garde and performative. That’s the sort of media that really speaks to me.

SMP: Are there people in the music sphere that inspire you like that?

SM: My musical inspirations are very diverse. Some of the people who also deal with humor, theatricality and intermedia work come to mind like Rick Burkhardt and Kate Soper. And the storytelling songs. I’ve been really gravitating toward Dolly Parton songs lately. I also just heard an orchestra piece by Jay Schwartz that was amazing and mind-blowing but really different from what I do.

SMP: What are some of the most important lessons that you’ve learned from your students?

SM: When I taught at [The] Walden [School, a summer composition camp in New Hampshire], I had some very young students, like 10, 11, 12 years old. One thing I learned from them is to be true to your natural voice. Of course I always would challenge them and have them do new techniques, but letting them be their unvarnished selves in their music was extremely powerful. At that age they’re so raw and creative and unpolished in a beautiful way. That inspired me to, in a more mature, adult-appropriate way, be a little raw and true to my own inner child.

I remember a student who wrote a piece called “The Voice of a Whale” for voice and cello from the perspective of a whale that was adopted by humans. This whale remembered some of her native whale language but not all of it, so when she was speaking English, she put the words out of order because she was applying whale grammar to English words. That sounds like kind of a funny concept, but the piece was very heart-wrenching. Even though it was ten years ago, I can still sing that piece to you now because this composer, Claire, was following her idea. She had a good idea, and she went with it. She committed to it.

I think that’s the biggest takeaway from working with my students. If you have a good idea, just go with it, and don’t think twice about committing to a concept.

SMP: What’s in store in the future for you? What are some projects that you want to tackle or some areas that you’re interested in exploring?

SM: I’m very much in a good place now. I have lots of upcoming pieces. Right now I’m working on a large ensemble piece for the Green Umbrella Series for the LA Phil Chamber Music Series. I’m also working on my second string quartet. Next year I’ll be doing a big women’s choir piece.

I definitely want to do another harmonic installation in the next few years, but I haven’t found the right venue or timeframe yet. I have a different visual aesthetic in mind this time. I want it to have totally clear plastic and much more clean lines and high columns that expand upward very linearly so you can really see the harmonicas vibrating very clearly.

I also want to do some sort of big theatrical project, but I don’t have a super clear vision of that yet. It’ll come into clear focus soon, I’m sure.

Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: The New New Testament of Piano Repertoire

BeethovenVonRichardWagner1870 marked the 100th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven. After denying the invitation from the “Beethoven Committee of Vienna” to appear onstage together with Liszt, Joachim and Clara Schumann to celebrate the event, Richard Wagner decided to write an essay instead. While this essay is notable as a broader investigation of Wagner’s aesthetic philosophy and ideals, it also remains an insightful exploration of both the artistic significance and enduring popularity of Beethoven’s music. For Wagner Beethoven’s music isn’t merely beautiful, a concept that is for him constrained by convention and subject to changing tastes and fashions, but sublime. Beethoven reveals a sort of Platonic ideal of melody, thereby liberating it from its historical moment, and connecting his listeners with a timeless, universal human truth. For Wagner it is Beethoven’s radical defiance against tradition and his intense emotional expressions that make his music a vehicle for revelation.

Though these strains are apparent across Beethoven’s entire oeuvre, it is in his piano sonatas that Beethoven’s boldest thoughts and gestures shine most brightly. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Beethoven was widely known as a brilliant pianist in his own right, giving him the natural freedom to stretch the boundaries of the instrument. Perhaps, though, it is also due to the nature of the piano itself: a solo instrument that lends itself to the realm of the personal and inward, even the diaristic, and one that, by allowing tones only to be struck and not sustained or driven forward, abstracts music into its most intellectually pure form, making it a prime medium for musical exploration and innovation.

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Ludwig van Beethoven

To explore Beethoven’s piano sonatas is to explore Beethoven’s musical innovations. In these 32 pieces, we see the concentrated version of the familiar trajectory guiding us from the Classical era into the Romantic: the experimental mimicry of his early years, the ego-driven defiance of his middle years where, at the height of his compositional powers, he most fully challenges convention, and finally his late years where, fully deaf, he introspectively explores the mysteries of life and death.

In the collection of piano sonatas, we also see the concentrated version of the formal shifts that we see in his symphonic and chamber works. From the most trivial musical notions he extracts the most expansive palettes through time manipulation, rhythmic ambiguities, unexpected accents, extreme dynamic contrasts and seemingly infinite variations on single simplistic themes. As the opus numbers increase, we see him shorten expositions and lengthen developments and codas, reintroduce Baroque counterpoint and fugue into contemporary composition, and shift the structural weight of the sonata from the first to the final movement.

To advance such radical changes, it was almost necessary that Beethoven remain insistent on his music being played as he had intended, rather than falling prey to interpretive fashion and, at least at its time, the conventions it aimed to break. As such, Beethoven left specific and meticulous guidance in his manuscripts that he expected to be followed just as carefully.

During his three years assembling the new complete Bärenreiter Urtext collection of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, editor Jonathan Del Mar spent a great deal of time grappling with primary texts, many written by Beethoven himself. Here Del Mar discusses the importance of dealing with these primary sources, especially when publishing a work of such a meticulous composer, as well as the difficulty in deciphering something so personal as handwriting:

 

“Beethoven had such appallingly messy handwriting, didn’t he — I don’t know how anyone can read it! How many times have I heard that accusation directed against one of the greatest composers who ever lived?

I have lived with Beethoven’s handwriting for my whole life. My father bought the colossal facsimile of the Ninth Symphony when I was a boy and we looked at it together. Actually I have always had a fascination for handwritings, recognising and deciphering them. From decades of looking at most of the extant Beethoven autographs the composer’s handwriting has become very familiar to me. And there are idiosyncrasies! An example: When Beethoven smudges something, that means he is deleting it! This is often far from obvious and I had to learn it.

Beethoven was actually incredibly accurate, methodical, and scrupulous down to the last accidental and staccato mark. His manuscripts are a miracle both of creative inspiration and of systematic organization; you can see in them both the white-hot heat of his temperament and the cool, calculated finickiness of one determined that there should not be a single mistake in the printed score. He sent correction lists to publishers on account of quite small details. Indeed: when the finished product dropped on to his mat, when he opened it and immediately saw a mistake, he would fly into a rage, and straightaway write to the publisher insisting that the edition be withdrawn, or at least that every copy be corrected by them in Indian ink before it was sold.

Why do I need to go to libraries and look at the physical sources? Why can’t I work from scans, photocopies, or microfilms? Despite all the research already having been done, there may still be crucial things to be discovered from the composer’s original manuscript. If you base your edition on bad photocopies in which a grain in the paper or a stitchhole looks exactly like a staccato mark or even a note, you are in trouble. In the Sonata op. 28 a hole in the paper has for a long time been printed as a staccato in many editions!”

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The Bärenreiter Complete Beethoven Sonatas for Pianoforte, a culmination of Del Mar’s decades of work on Beethoven, is now available at introductory pricing and, along with the associated critical commentary, is part of our preparation for the yearlong celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday in 2020. New individual editions of each sonata are also available.

This Giving Tuesday, Give to Music Education

This Giving Tuesday it’s our privilege to feature three of the most dynamic music education organizations in the United States: Give A Note Foundation, the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation and the Ukulele Kids Club.

Sheet Music Plus has supported the fundraising efforts of each of these organizations in recent years, and today we’d like to once again bring to light the extraordinary work they do to connect children with music and bring these children the multitude of benefits that music can offer them.

We urge you to support them today and every day throughout the year to the extent that you are able, and if you or someone you know would benefit from their services, we encourage you to reach out to them for assistance.

 

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Give A Note Foundation

https://www.giveanote.org/

Give A Note Foundation provides support to nurture, grow and strengthen music education opportunities. Founded in 2011 with an initial investment from 21st Century Fox and the TV show GLEE, Give A Note increases access to quality music education for more students, especially those in urban and rural communities where funding is scarce. Give A Note’s Music Education Innovator Award recognizes teachers who have developed creative, effective in-classroom programs and provides ongoing support to encourage lasting change within a school or district. Music Teacher Notes offers teachers an opportunity to apply for funds that will enable them to serve more students and significantly improve the music education experience in their classrooms.

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Haydee Vazquez & Mariachi Dinastía de Ramona of Ramona High School (Riverside, CA)

Haydee Vazquez, a senior at Ramona High School in Riverside, CA, found a connection to her family’s culture and an environment for her to blossom as a musician, friend and well-rounded person in her school’s mariachi program, Mariachi Dinastía de Ramona. Give A Note invested in Mariachi Dinastía de Ramona during its first round of the Music Education Innovator Award, granting Director Brian Gallagher funds to add instruments to the program to increase student engagement in music. Here is Haydee’s story:

“Mariachi music has always been part of my family’s culture, but I was never a big fan of it until I joined the group. Previous to Mariachi Dinastía de Ramona, I had been a part of various musical groups, including Wind Ensemble and Dynasty Marching Band as a trumpet player, and Madrigals as an alto singer. These groups all gave me amazing experiences, but I wasn’t able to find a balance to do everything. During my junior year of high school, a friend of mine introduced me to the mariachi class…The environment was slightly altered but still familiar, but the experience was completely different. The mariachi group and class has taught me to appreciate music through a different perspective, learn from the experiences I had as a single individual and as part of the ensemble, as well as provide me with a safe haven from the outside world in which I can enjoy playing music with the wonderful people I’ve developed great friendships with.”

 

MHOF_LOGO_NO_BOX_4CP_BWMr. Holland’s Opus Foundation

https://www.mhopus.org/

The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation was inspired by the acclaimed motion picture Mr. Holland’s Opus, the story of the profound effect a dedicated music teacher had on generations of students. The Foundation keeps music alive in our schools by

donating musical instruments to under-funded music programs, and providing vital services to school districts nationwide, giving economically disadvantaged youth access to the many benefits of music education, leading them to success in school, and inspiring creativity and expression through playing music. Over 23 years, more than 29,000 instruments have been donated to 1,560 schools across the United States through the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation.

Felice Mancini, President and CEO of the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, reflects on her organization’s impact:

“We believe that kids thrive when given the chance to learn and play music. We regularly check in with teachers who receive instruments and it is very satisfying to know that they see dramatic improvement and accomplishment when students play great-sounding instruments. Schools are such an integral part of any community, and tools and activities that increase student success and get them through to graduation and college make communities stronger.”

The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation gave an instrument grant to Jeremy Diggs, Director of Bands at Fonville Middle School in Houston, TX, who described the effect that the foundation’s grant had on his students:

“The students all expressed that playing on the new instruments made them feel more confident in what they were doing. That boost of confidence came in handy because the 8th-grade band received straight 1st divisions at the district competition. All of the students were playing on donated instruments! We couldn’t have done it without the investment you made in our band program! Thanks again!”

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Fonville Middle School Band (Houston, TX) earned 1st Division Superior ratings

Catherine S., a student at Key Middle School, also in Houston, TX, sent this thank-you note to the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation after receiving a new flute through an instrument grant provided by the foundation:

Key-Middle-School-Houston-TX-Catherine-S.jpg

 

UKCLogoUkulele Kids Club

https://theukc.org/

The Ukulele Kids Club (UKC) is an international nonprofit organization based in Plantation, FL. The UKC was founded in 2013 by Corey and Edda Bergman as a tribute to Jared Bergman, their son who died tragically at the age of 20 from a viral infection. In his bereavement, Corey, a lifelong musician, was inspired to begin volunteering his musical talents at local children’s hospitals in the Miami area, playing guitar for patients and their families. He let the children try out his guitar, but after finding it was too large for some of the younger patients, he realized that the instrument’s smaller cousin, the ukulele, might be a more approachable alternative. Corey began teaching these young patients the ukulele, and so was born the UKC.

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Corey Bergman volunteering with his guitar in a Florida children’s hospital

Since its founding, the UKC has directly supported the health care of nearly 10,000 children through music, music therapy and donations of its signature instrument. The UKC works with more than 200 hospital-based music therapy programs in the U.S. and internationally, including Canada, France, Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the United Kingdom. A leading advocate of music therapy, the UKC also supports training and education through clinical fellowships. The UKC is a gold-level GuideStar participant.

The mother of a patient who received a ukulele through UKC remarks:

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“Thank you, Ukulele Kids Club, for the ukulele (courtesy of Matt at Oakland Children’s Hospital). My 7-year-old daughter is fighting stage 3 Rhabdomyosarcoma, and while in Boston getting radiation therapy, she got a chance to take ukulele lessons. When returning to California, she told her music therapist all about it and how she didn’t have one at home, and he came back to her room with this [ukulele]. She loves to play.”

A patient who received a ukulele herself from UKC also shares the way that her ukulele and her music therapy helped her through her illness:

“I am a patient at the University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital receiving treatment for a struggle with anorexia. I was one of the lucky patients to be given a ukulele that was donated to the hospital by your organization, and I must express my profound thanks for this amazingly generous gift you gave. Playing and learning the ukulele with the music therapist was one of the few comforts during my stressful stay at the hospital. Therefore, I am very thankful for your generosity and the gift you have given me.”

Beginning Ukulele Book Reviews for 7 Popular Methods

Guest post by Jenny Peters of the Ukulele Sisters

So, you want to learn how to play the ukulele. Great! In this article, I’ll take a close look at 7 popular ways to begin your ukulele journey and explain who each of these methods is best for.

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You, the learner, need a book that fits your learning style and background knowledge. You want a book that teaches you the ukulele skills you would like to know, such as singing and strumming chords, fingerpicking melodies, reading ukulele tablature, and/or learning to read standard music notation. You also want to find an approach you will enjoy.

In some ways learning music is like learning a whole new language. You also need to know what skills you must master in order to progress in music such as how to practice. Finally, you have to learn how to tune your instrument and take care of it.

What to Expect

Each author of a “how to play ukulele” book writes with a certain type of beginner in mind: someone with little or no music background, or someone who already plays several instruments and is adding ukulele to their bag of tricks. They might write for someone who reads standard music notation well or for someone who does not. They might even question if a beginning player needs to read music at all!

We will answer the following questions for each book in our beginning ukulele book reviews:

  • How does it teach chords?
  • How does it teach reading melodies?
  • How quickly does the book progress?
  • Are there online lessons or a video course? Are there audio tracks?
  • Who is this book best suited for?

How Do We Write Down Music in a Beginning Ukulele Book

In order to communicate how a song goes in a book, there needs to be some way of writing down sounds. With fretted instruments such as ukulele and guitar, there are some unique shorthand ways we can write down music:

  • Chord stamps (symbols) show where to put our fingers on the ukulele to create the desired chord.

Chord Stamp image

  • Standard 5 line music staff to show the rise and fall of the melody. It can take quite a lot of time to master reading the music staff.

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  • Ukulele tablature is sometimes used instead of or in addition to the standard music staff to show the melody. Tab can be helpful for beginners because it shows you where to put your left-hand fingers on your ukulele in order to play the pitches of the song. Tab is a lot simpler to learn to read than standard music notation. Once you get the idea of it you can improve quickly.

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  • Standard rhythmic notation to show how fast or slow notes or strums should be in relation to each other.

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The 7 Beginning Ukulele Book Reviews

We have ordered the book reviews from easiest to hardest.

  1. 21 Songs in 6 Days: Learn Ukulele the Easy Way
  2. Ukulele for All
  3. Alfred’s Basic Ukulele Method
  4. Hal Leonard Ukulele Method Book 1
  5. Essential Elements for Ukulele
  6. Ukulele Primer by Bert Casey
  7. Jumpin’ Jim’s Ukulele Tips and Tunes

1.  21 Songs in 6 Days: Learn Ukulele the Easy Way

21 Songs in 6 Days CoverThis method is encouraging to the learner. There are online videos to teach the songs and all the concepts presented.

It begins with one-chord songs and simple strumming patterns. The authors delay the changing of chords until students can sing and strum a steady beat at the same time. When two-chord songs are introduced, there are thirteen two-chord songs, so students can really get the hang of the change from F to C7.

The reading of melodies using ukulele tablature is taught alongside the singing and strumming of songs for some of the songs. The chords in this method are C, A Minor, F, C7 and G7.

There are both a musical term and a chord glossary with pictures. Strumming patterns remain simple with only four basic strums covered.

This book is best for someone who is new to playing an instrument, and who does not read music. Its progression is slow and steady. There are online video lessons for each song and for the concepts (including tuning) in the book.

The authors also have a YouTube channel that teaches a lot of the information in the book.

2.  Ukulele for All

uke-for-all-224x300.pngThis book starts with singing and strumming each song. Ukulele for All teaches chord stamps by presenting the diagram sideways with a picture of a person’s hand.

The teaching of tab reading is also unique because it shows how the horizontal strings of the ukulele relate to the lines of the tab staff. Students can easily visualize where to put their fingers on the strings of the ukulele. Tab notation is taught alongside the singing of melodies and strumming of chords.

The book starts with one-chord songs and has a chapter for each of three beginning chords (C, A Minor, and F.) Songs that change chords are delayed until the fourth chapter. Students are encouraged to sing rounds to create harmonies within a one chord song.

Strumming patterns are kept simple throughout the book. Finger-picking of accompaniments is presented in Chapter 8. There is also a chapter on the 12-bar blues that encourages students to improvise their own solos over a bass line.

The book comes with proprietary software that includes video lessons for each song and for the concepts (including tuning) presented in the book. The software also includes audio for the songs that can be slowed down for practicing. Students can also record themselves and submit recordings to their teacher.

The book is intended for either classroom use or for private instruction. If a student prefers melodies, the student can work on that. If a student likes to sing and strum chords, the student can work on that, since both versions are presented with each song. There is a Teachers’ Edition of the book available with detailed suggestions on how to work with groups of students at different levels.

Chords presented in this method are C, A Minor, F, C7 and G7.

This book is best for someone who is new to playing an instrument and doesn’t read music. Its progression is slow and steady. It includes video lessons.

3.  Alfred’s Basic Ukulele Method

alfreds-basicThis method book claims to be the most popular standard ukulele method and upon looking through it, I can see why.

Strumming and singing songs is delayed 16 pages until the basic reading of single notes on the tab staff is solid. There is a tab staff underneath the standard musical notation to help you find the melody notes more easily.

The first song with chord changes is “Good Night Ladies.” This song uses two chords F and C7 which is an easy 2 chord pattern. The book progresses slowly and steadily, eventually teaching the student seven chords (C, F, C7, G, D7, and G7.)

Strumming patterns are introduced independently of reading melodies and progress gradually. The strumming patterns remain pretty simple.

This book is best for someone who is new to playing an instrument, and doesn’t read music. Its progression is slow and steady, and it includes both a DVD and online video lessons.

4.  Hal Leonard Ukulele Method Book 1

HL book1-450x584This book by Lil’ Rev is a solid beginning method. It starts with reading tab melodies. When chords are introduced, the student learns C, F, and G7 all at once. There is a little bit of time to learn basic strumming patterns before applying chords to a song, but the first song uses all three chords. From there, new chords are introduced fairly quickly.

Chords taught in this book are: C, F, G7, E Minor, D7, G, Bb, A Minor, B7, D Minor, A7 and A.

Lil’ Rev teaches some really cool strumming techniques, such as tremolo, single roll stroke, finger and thumb strum and the index finger strum. He explains these techniques well with pictures, arrows and counting.

The book is nicely laid out and there is a basic chord glossary at the end. There are no audio or video lessons that I could find, but Lil’ Rev has a website and YouTube channel where he teaches a lot of the strumming techniques he uses in this book.

When I was first learning ukulele I worked through this book. I didn’t have trouble with the left-hand chord changes, but I found the many different strumming patterns difficult. This book might be best for someone with fretted instrument background such as the guitar or mandolin.

5.  Essential Elements for Ukulele

essentials-element-450x593.pngMarty Gross does a great job of teaching the ukulele in this book. Students learn to read music well. They learn the following chords: C, G7, F, Am, D7 (Hawaiian style) C7, Bb, Dm, F7, A7, Em, E7 and G#+. There is even a section on movable barre chords!

From my point of view, this book progresses quickly. Students are expected to read standard music notation rather than the tab staff. Also, the first two chord song uses C to G7. G7 is a three finger chord and is hard for a lot of beginning players to master.

The songs in this book are pretty awesome, for example: “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, “Octopus’s Garden”, and “La Bamba”. There is an audio CD which is helpful because not all the songs have suggested strumming patterns. There is a strumming chart and a chord glossary at the end of the book.

This book would work well in a private lesson setting or with older students in a small group setting. It would also work well with someone who has played many other instruments before.

6.  Ukulele Primer by Bert Casey

ukulele-primer-CaseyBert Casey does a great job at teaching singing and strumming the ukulele.

He has a unique way of notating the songs by having two staves: one for the melody line and one for the strumming pattern. This is helpful when the strumming patterns get complicated and don’t match up with the rhythm of the melody.

The book comes with a DVD. There is also access to online video lessons.

This book assumes you either know the songs, will watch the videos to learn them or that you can read music. There is no tab for the melodies.

There are many strumming patterns presented and they move sequentially from easier to more complicated. The patterns are easy to read and understand. When the book gets to more complicated patterns, there is a good base upon which to build.

Finally, there is information in the appendix on how the guitar relates to the ukulele, some music theory, a chord library and a strumming pattern library.

This book is probably best for someone who has background on other fretted string instruments such as guitar. The opening material will be difficult if you are a complete ukulele beginner. The strumming patterns will be difficult to coordinate with the songs until you have more experience singing and strumming.

7.  Jumpin’ Jim’s Ukulele Tips ‘N’ Tunes

jumpin-jim-450x695.pngThis was the book I used to teach myself the ukulele. It’s small, nicely laid out, and has a folksy feel.

It gets right into playing the songs after only a couple of pages of introductory material. Jim covers a lot of music theory in two pages, which a beginner might not understand depending on their background.

The first song uses the C and G7 chords which can be difficult for many beginners. There is no tab for the songs, so the author assumes you can read music to figure out how the melodies sound. The strumming patterns are shown above the notes

The book progresses through many key signatures and teaches you the following chords: C, G7, Cmaj7, C6, C7, Am, F, G#7, D7, Gdim, Gmaj7, Em7, A7, Edim, Em, etc. Jim gives you the option of leaving chords out by putting them in parentheses. This is helpful because it can be hard to keep the flow of the singing and strumming going with so many chord changes. There are no video lessons.

I was able to learn a lot with this book, but I didn’t become a fluent strummer until I worked with simpler material. This book is probably best for someone with a lot of music background.

I needed to work more with the material Bert Casey and Lil’ Rev teach before I became a fluent player. I knew that my students who are new to music would need a slower and more gradual approach which is why I wrote my books the way I did.

Conclusion

All of these books have their strengths. The best course of action is for you to discover what kind of learner you are. Then choose the book that suits you best after reading our reviews.

Of course I am biased, but if you are a complete music beginner I think your best bet would be to buy one of my books, either 21 Songs in 6 Days: Learn Ukulele the Easy Way or Ukulele for All. Alfred’s Basic Ukulele Method would also work well for you.

If you have experience with guitar, you might prefer one of the more difficult books such as Essential Elements, Bert Casey’s Ukulele Primer, or Jumpin’ Jim’s Ukulele Tips ‘N’ Tunes.

In my own musical journey, I have often worked with several books to learn different skills. I hope this article will help find the book or books that work best for you!

 

JennyPetersJenny Peters is one part of the Ukulele Sisters team. She stumbled upon the ukulele after finding 45 of them in one of her elementary school classrooms. Convinced she could turn her finding into more than a whole lot of noise, she designed a program to teach all of her students to play successfully with only 30 minutes of class time a week. No one was more grateful than the teacher in the next classroom.

A former private piano teacher in Chicago with a Masters in Piano Performance from the University of Illinois, Jenny now lives in Highland Park. Married with three kids, she shares her home with three cats and more musical instruments than she would care to name.


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Thought-provoking articles by musicians for musicians, music lovers or those that want to learn more about it!

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