Popcorn: Ideas and Lyrics

popcorn title

I have been made really happy by the response from my students to the first tune in ‘Fun, Games and Party Pieces’: ‘Popcorn’. They love knocking on the piano and clapping, and take to the rhythm immediately with wide grins all round. The melody which follows is shared between the two hands and has several kinds of symmetry which the children are pleased to discover, making the whole piece gratifyingly easy.

Pattern recognition is a huge part of understanding music, and how switched-on you are to the patterns in tunes (not necessarily consciously) will determine how successful you will be at learning pieces.

I teach my students the chords – um cha, um cha* per bar – and we play it together, playing the percussion parts alongside each other. The students have to get straight to their starting notes on time, feeling the pulse through the clapping and into the notes. It makes an enjoyable game when you’re doing this alongside each other.

For the younger child

WP_20150207_002(2) WP_20150207_003(3)I hadn’t considered that this music might be for pre-schoolers at all until my four year old daughter and her friend saw it open on the piano and asked to learn it, drawn by the pictures of popcorn. They grasped the knocking and clapping just as quickly as the older children. We started the melody on a C# rather than a G, then the girls could follow the black notes up and down; that pentatonic scale ready-made for them. They have to work out which hand to use, and whether it goes up or down. The tune is then finished off with the knocking and clapping once more.

So if you play this tune with tinies, teach it on the black notes!

I came up with some lyrics to go with the tune, and have been using with all my students ever since.

Lyrics

popcorn panPut the corn in the pan

Hungry now? Yes I am

Heat the pan, pop the corn

Eat it up; popcorn’s gone.

*Um cha example on C

um cha

 

 

 

Posted in Fun Games and Party Pieces Beginner, music teaching, piano | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Paul Harris and Taking the Time to Learn Well

Thanks so much to Frances Wilson for her clear and comprehensive notes from ‘The Virtuoso Teacher’ seminar with Paul Harris. It is so good to hear from a music teacher who through his teaching has explored all the many aspects of learning to get to the nub of what music is, what enables a student to learn it well, and therefore how we should teach it.

I am currently reading Paul Harris’ ‘Simultaneous Learning’ and find it encouraging me to go further into the tangents that I like to take based on the musical elements of whatever the students are learning, and question myself much more whenever I find myself in that awful conventional rut of starting proceedings from the notes on the page first. Harris describes this as ‘waiting for things to go wrong and then correcting them.’ Put like this, it’s so obvious. This is exactly what we are doing when we take the traditional route. It is the way most of us were taught. Some of us who really took music on as our own thing continued, but the vast majority gave up.

‘The quality of our students’ understanding is better than the quantity of their work’.

Recently a mother stopped one of my student’s lessons because the student wasn’t ‘where she should be by her age’. This girl (who was nine) could transpose her tunes into any key, change the modality (minor/major), accompany the tunes using chords in the right hand and a bass line in the left, play the 12 bar blues pattern and improvise in the two pentatonic scales and the blues scale, switching them on request. She was also doing well with note reading and classical scales. I’m sure if I had started her on the grade exams and pushed her along that conveyor belt the mother would have been satisfied. But the way we were building up to it, she would have been able to play her three pieces no problem and any others of that standard, with a real understanding of the music and the reasons behind why you’d bother to learn it in the first place.

Contrasted with this, on Saturdays I teach a whole family of four. All from scratch apart from the mum, who took exams when she was younger and plays to a competent level, but felt something was missing. Because I teach them all on the same day, and seeing them all together gives me so many options for collaboration, they get the full force of the Conrad’s Chords style! They are all very different in personality and how they approach things, and because they are learning as a family they can see how aspects of music (which I might teach in varying ways according to these differences) fit together to make a whole.

After the disappointment of the first student being removed from lessons, I was so happy to hear the mum of this family telling me how the older sibling who hadn’t appeared to embrace piano as fully as the other, had taken up clarinet lessons at school and was amazing her teacher by picking out tunes straight away having only been shown a few notes. Subsequently she is full of confidence with the instrument and is progressing with enthusiasm. ‘I’m sure it’s down to the way you are teaching us’. I couldn’t have hoped to hear a better vote of confidence. This family feel no pressure for anyone to be at a certain level at a certain time. The parents are happy that the children understand and enjoy it.

It’s not always easy to strike a balance between going at the pace a student needs to take in order to fully understand what they are doing, and feeling a need to achieve visible progress to keep the parents happy. I have had many students whose parents ask me every single week how their child is progressing.

I was talking about this recently to a friend who founded his own company, and I was really interested to hear him talk about his experience of how long it takes employees to assimilate into the company and achieve their full potential. He cited two cases of employees who did not seem to be good at their job at all until about two years in, when they made a remarkable shift and became indispensable. His take on it was that it takes that long for a lot of people to process all the requirements put on them by a situation. They need that time to internalise it all and find their feet. When his company had influence from some US based investors, they suggested sacking people after a short time period if they were not seen to be achieving. But he knew that if he had done that with these two people  he would never have known what a great asset they were to become.

What sort of a world is being created here, where people aren’t given the time they need to learn things well? When you can be dropped long before you had chance to prove yourself?

Seeing the difference with my Saturday family, I realise I need to make much more of an effort to bring all parents on board, so they can see for themselves the journey that their child is traveling, and come along with them.

Reading the inspiring words of Paul Harris makes me want to do my job better; be more thoughtful about everything I ask my students to do. Always have a mind for the bigger picture, and instead of feeling reigned in by the expectation of parents, jump on those tangents with both feet and enjoy the journey.

Posted in music teaching, piano, theory | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Entries open for the fourth annual Dulwich Piano Festival

It’s so important that music students have regular opportunities to perform to others in a friendly environment, and have the chance to be inspired by hearing others perform. Especially for piano players, who can often have quite a solitary musical existence.

fest 4I’m looking forward to the for the fourth annual Dulwich Piano Festival held at James Allen’s Girls’ School (JAGS) in East Dulwich. The festival provides an opportunity for pianists of all levels to share their music making with friends and family and to hear a wide range of inspiring repertoire ranging from Baroque to contemporary music.

In addition to graded exam classes, the festival organisers have carefully selected pieces that will appeal to beginner pianists to encourage them to make their Debut performance. In the Duet with Teacher classes you will be accompanied on stage as you play on a beautiful Yamaha S3  grand piano in the magnificent Holst Hall at JAGS school.

fest 6In an exciting twist, lots of the music by contemporary composers will be adjudicated by the composers themselves so this is a wonderful chance to receive feedback from the person that wrote your piece! 

All competitors receive written and verbal feedback, a certificate and printed programme. Many medals and trophies are presented on the day to class winners. 

fest 2You do not need to be a resident of Dulwich to enter. Last year entrants came from as far away as Peterborough, Manchester and even Austria!

Enter online or by email via the festival web site. Entries are open from February 1st to April 1st although class numbers are limited to 15 for beginner classes and 10 for graded exam classes, so early entry is strongly advised as the festival is oversubscribed each year.

http://dulwichpianofestival.co.uk

fest 1

Posted in music teaching, piano | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Playing with the Prep Test

Happy New Year everyone! I must update this blog to show something other than Christmas carols.

prepThis one is especially for any piano teachers taking their students through the ABRSM Prep Test. The two tunes used in this test have been on the syllabus since January 1999 so it’s fair to say teachers and examiners are well used to them!

‘Boating Lake’ is my preferred tune of the two and is in a lilting 3/4 time with a melody that crosses over from one hand to the other. Sometimes these two things elude a student at first. To help them feel the beat and get a sense of the overall piece, I always improvise accompaniments to my student’s tunes so everything becomes a pupil/teacher duet.

Whilst doing so with ‘Boating Lake’, I realised that you can accompany this tune with a very simple four-bar idea repeated throughout the piece, simple enough for beginners to pick up by ear quickly and play themselves- ostinatoThe students really enjoy it and it helps them get a sense of ownership of the piece.

Then I got an idea to write some prep test level pieces that can be played in their own right, but fit with the actual prep test ones. Students can swap tunes with their teacher, play the pieces as duets higher or lower on the piano, or on another piano or keyboard if they have the luxury of two in the same room.

So here is Sailing, which will go with Boating lake –

Sailing

And Springtime, which will go with Jogalong –

Springtime

And while I’m on the subject of such things, if anyone is using the Micheal Aaron Piano Method, this two-bar pattern goes well with ‘The Swing’ repeated throughout.
Swing ostinatoIf they know chords, they can just play ‘um cha cha’ once on C, once on G.

Hope some of these things come in handy! If so, leave me a comment. I would love to hear how it went!

Posted in piano, piano duets, sheet music | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Oh Christmas Tree: the Form of (Almost) All Music in a Nutshell

I was asked for this song by two sisters; one a piano student and one on the ukulele. They are big fans of Swiss Family Robinson.

‘Oh Christmas Tree’ turned out to be such a good one for beginners, as it consists of four lines; the first two being identical and extremely simple, the third line creating a bit of interest with a little more movement in the melody and chords, followed by another line identical to the first two. It is a little nutshell example of how most music works: a tune, that tune repeated, a little wandering into new territory, then back home to the familiar.

Here it is, with tune line and chords-

Oh Christmas Tree

For the ukulele student who is only six, I am using simplified chords and it is working a treat. She is playing and singing it with ease and it sounds lovely.

Here’s what I do.
Take one finger off G7, so uke chord G7becomes uke chord G7 simpler.
Do the same for F, so uke chord F becomes uke chord F simpler.

When playing in C, this creates a really nice effect with the low note C becoming a drone throughout the three chords.

I would substitute D minor for F, so the third line would go like this-

C                                     F                                  G7                    C
Not only green when summer’s here, but also when ’tis cold and drear.

The sweetness of these simplified chords plus the singing voice of a six year old is enough to melt anyone’s heart!

Posted in charts, Christmas, music teaching, piano, sheet music, singing, theory, ukulele | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jingle Bells: the Perfect Place to Start Harmonising

I’m well into Christmas Carol territory with most of my students now. Carols are great tunes to start people off with harmonising, as they are so familiar. The melody is already there, deep in the player’s subconscious. I don’t know any other group of tunes which are so universally known by everyone, to the extent that I wish I could use them the rest of the year. But that would spoil the fun I suppose. It’s lovely to appreciate how students are progressing by seeing how much easier they find playing them each year. I have a book of Carols with tune line and easy chords, which I will make available online in the next week or so. But now I would like to focus on Jingle Bells, which is loved by all children and is so versatile for arranging.

PIANO

Start with the chorus. Here’s a super simple version which uses only two chords.

Jingle Bells v simple

If you need it even simpler, here is one with only one chord per line. This works well with the student playing just the root note of each chord in the left hand.

Jingle Bells even simpler

  • Start them off by playing the melody yourself while they play the bass notes at the appropriate time.
  • When they are ready, they can move to playing the whole chord underneath the tune.
  • Now introduce the 1st inversion of G, so they don’t have to move so far, but make sure they understand how this relates to the root position.
  • Add a chord for extra satisfaction! change the G on ‘one horse’ to a D, and put a G on ‘sleigh’.

If they are young, they can stick with the chorus this Christmas. If they’re ready for more, move on to the whole song.

Jingle Bells

The above song sheets work well for ukulele too, just make sure they play ‘G7’ when they see ‘G’ as this is much easier for beginners and sounds best too.

GUITAR

I have found that the easiest three chords to start guitarists with are A, E and D in that order.

Here is the simplest version for the ultra-slow chord changes of complete beginners.

Jingle Bells simplest guitar

Here is a simple 2 chord version.

Jingle Bells simple guitar

If the have mastered that, put it in D. Now they can play the extra chord of E.

Time to play the whole song! (In D, there are no difficult chords).

Jingle Bells in D Guitar

Posted in charts, Christmas, guitar, music teaching, piano, sheet music, singing, theory, ukulele | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mele Kalikimaka

For music teachers, Christmas is just around the corner (you have to have time to learn a tune if you want to impress everyone with it at Christmas) and Conrad’s Chords has had a request! A Christmassy duet for piano and ukulele.

uke santaMele Kalikimaka (Hawaiian for Merry Christmas) is a brilliant ukulele song, and perfect if you’re looking for a different take on Christmas that is really upbeat and goes with a swing.

Here it is arranged for piano and ukulele with key options, although I think it goes best in the key of D.

Mele Kelikimaka piano and ukulele in D
Mele Kelikimaka piano and ukelele in C

And here with just the tune line and ukulele chords.

Mele Kelikimaka tune line and ukulele in D
Mele Kelikimaka tune line and ukulele in C

Tutorial video for ukulele

Strum it on the off-beat to make it swing.

I have it repeating once, but of course you can go round as many times as you like, and vary it in whatever way you desire!

R.A.AndersonThe song was written in 1949 by Robert Alex Anderson, a Hawaiian born composer who sounds to have been quite a character. There was even a film made about his feats of derring-do as a fighter pilot in the First World War. Anderson wrote the song after someone had questioned why there weren’t any Hawaiian Christmas songs.

I’ve just learned from Wikipedia that ‘Mele Kalikimaka’ is a just how ‘Merry Christmas’ comes out if you put it into the Hawaiian tongue.

Bing Crosby recorded Mele Kalikimaka with the Andrew Sisters, which is the classic version. But I love love love KT Tunstall singing it. What a phenomenal musician.

I first became aware of this song whilst doing a four year stint with Tricity Vogue each Christmas in a shopping centre in North East London, welcoming Santa to his grotto. I also ended up singing it with her in a department store in Central London in the middle of July (above pic). She gets me the weirdest gigs.

Posted in charts, Christmas, music teaching, piano, singing, ukulele | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dulwich Piano Festival 2015

I will be putting my adjudicator’s hat on again for the Dulwich Piano Festival in June 2015. There will be a class for beginner’s duet featuring my first duet book, and a class for the aged seven and under where they will get a choice of two pieces from my new book, ‘Fun, Games and Party Pieces’, coming out in December.

The fourth annual Dulwich Piano Festival will be held at James Allen’s Girls School in East Dulwich on Sunday 7 June 2015. The festival is organised by Lorraine Liyanage, Head Teacher at the SE22 Piano School, a busy private teaching practice based in South London. Lorraine is committed to providing regular performance – and social – opportunities for her piano students of all ages in order for them to share their music making with friends and family.

dulwichfest
Lorraine organised the festival because there was a distinct lack of any music competitions in the Dulwich area. Instead, she had to send her students to far-flung destinations such as Bromley, Beckenham and Croydon to compete in piano festivals. Spotting a gap in the market, Lorraine decided to take the risk of hiring a venue, advertising the event on a small scale in local magazines to attract competitors from other piano teachers, and the first Dulwich Piano Festival was born! In 2011, the competition was held in a 4 hour slot at Dulwich College and was attended by students of ages 4 to 72. The success of the first festival has seen the event grow to a twice-yearly event that now includes a Harpsichord Competition at the Horniman Museum & Gardens.

Entries for the 2015 Festival are now open. There is no deadline for entry, instead the classes close as they reach capacity, so early entry is advised.

Lorraine’s words about my set pieces

‘Roll Along’ by Rosa Conrad from ‘Fun, Games & Party Pieces’. Age 7 and Under – open to pianists that have never played in a piano festival before.

This is the ideal piece for young beginners with the left hand leading a simple melody with the opportunity to explore a small range of dynamics. Do ensure that your starting dynamic of ‘mp’ contrasts sufficiently with the ending marking of ‘forte’. Make sure your ending is bold!

‘Spooky’ by Rosa Conrad from ‘Fun, Games & Party Pieces’. Age 10 and under.

What a fun piece exploring dynamic ranges from pp to fff, with the creepy theme used on TV and movies when a ghost is approaching on tippy-toes. Pianists will be particularly delighted with the ending – the lowest note on the piano played fff – don’t be shy with the fff! The pieces offers the opportunity to explore a contrasting range of dynamics as well as ensuring there are crisp staccatos and longer notes held for their full value. Remember it’s marked slow and mysterious so there’s no need to rush this one – build up the suspense! This piece is ideal for beginners.

‘Tempest’ by Rosa Conrad from ‘Delightfully Easy Piano Duets‘. Any age.

A firm favourite with my piano students, this duet is exactly as the title suggests – fiery and stormy, with lots of dynamic contrast and a chance to show off different characters and moods. The lower part is particularly fun to play so it’s a real blast to perform and always goes down well with the audience.

dulwich cards

Posted in piano, piano duets | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Decision Almost Made

In my previous blog post I gave two duets from the forthcoming book two of ‘Rosamund Conrad’s Delightfully Easy Piano Duets′ as free downloads, and asked people to try them out and tell me which duet they think should stay, and which should go.

A lot of people have said they prefer ‘Minor Waltz’, but here’s the rub. Looking at the number of clicks on the downloads it is easy to see that there have been many more downloads of the beginner’s part than the intermediate. Now, in the duet ‘Charlotte’, the tune is in the Intermediate part rather than the beginner. And I got this response on Facebook –

Minor Waltz is nice, but Charlotte has a beautiful melody! Keep Charlotte!’

All the other responses preferred Minor Waltz, but this response was the nicest and most enthusiastic!

So the upshot is I would like just a few more opinions and then I will decide. So if you would like a sneak preview at a couple of honestly truly delightfully easy piano duets, please download both parts and tell me what you think!

Thank you!

Posted in music teaching, piano, piano duets, sheet music | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Which duet should go? Please help!

QuestionsBook two of my ‘Delightfully Easy Piano Duets’ is due to be printed next month. The book is shaping up nicely. Now I’m faced with a decision. I have one duet too many, and one has to go. The trouble is I can’t decide which, so I’ve decided to open it up for a vote.

Here are the two duets-

Charlotte try-out beginner’s part
Charlotte try-out intermediate part

Minor Waltz try-out beginner’s part
Minor Waltz try-out intermediate part

They are both duets over two pages, so the pages need to be taped together in the order that they are numbered.

It would be a huge help to get your opinions; teachers or players for fun. I hope you enjoy the free downloads, and please let me know which one you would vote out on my facebook page.

Thanks a lot!

Posted in music teaching, piano, piano duets, sheet music | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment