The Most Versatile Christmas Book You’ll Ever Own

Teacher: “Billy, do you want to play any Christmas music this year?”

Billy: “Eh, no not really.”

Am I right when I say this is a phrase you rarely if ever hear from piano students? 🙂

I would suffice to say that Christmas is the time of year when many students get most passionate about what they want to play. Some have quite strong feelings about what favorite Christmas tunes they want to play and some just want to play as much as they possibly can.

Today I’m excited to share with you a new Christmas book that is unlike any other Christmas book for piano students. 

I’m confident that you’ll not only find it to be completely unique, but incredibly versatile as well.

What is it?

It’s a book of 8 Christmas tunes to harmonize and play by ear including:

  1. I Saw Three Ships
  2. Away in a Manger
  3. Silent Night
  4. Up On the Housetop
  5. Go Tell it On the Mountain
  6. Jingle Bells
  7. Joy to the World
  8. The First Noel

 

Goals of this Book

The overarching goal of this book is to enable piano students to feel like they can sit down and play some of their favorite Christmas tunes anywhere and at any time without notation in front of them.

Many students find great joy in the annual musical feast that comes around each year making it a great opportunity for the development of life-long musicianship skills.

Students will be encouraged to discern between duple vs. triple meters and major vs. minor tonalities, learn to harmonize using chords, play in a variety of keys, use several accompaniment patterns, and more.

The format encourages the development of audiation, improvisation, and creativity skills by presenting multi-level steps/variations on playing each tune. Each song includes its own checklist so students can use and build on these sheets year after year as their skills progress.

Besides developing skills for playing by ear and playing tunes in a variety of ways, students are also gaining the valuable skill of learning how to play from a chord chart in any key.

Think of it kind of like “build-a-bear” – students are “building-a-book” of Christmas music! 🙂

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Favorite Collections of Christmas Music

This post is part of a series called Your Questions Answered that highlights questions from readers just like you. If you have a question you would like to submit, you can do so here.

 


Hi Amy!

Do you have favorite collections of Christmas music for your students?

My middle kid wants me to get out ‘the’ Christmas music book (we have a very old primer from my in-laws).

I told him he had to learn two new songs from a non-Christmas book before I would think about that. So, he sat down and sight-read the whole Faber Piano Adventures, Level 2A Performance book. 🤨 😮 (I guess the desire for Christmas music was a good motivator!) So, I’m going to get the Faber Christmas books for levels 2 and 3.

Do you have any other recommendations?

-Anna Parkinson


Hey, Anna!

Why yes, I do! I actually have an entire blog post dedicated to some of my “Trusty Christmas Favorites.

But first of all, bravo to you on finding a way to light the fire for your kiddo! It sounds like you’re probably headed in the right direction.

As far as Faber goes, I don’t know if you were intending on doing the Christmas books that correlate to the student library or the ones that are part of the “Show Time,” “Big Time,” and “Play Time” series. While either is fine, my personal preference is the latter.

Since I have a whole post of my favorites, I won’t share too many more details here but will mention that you might also consider getting him the  Adult Piano Adventures Christmas Books.

Each book has a lot of music. The first 1/3 of book 1 is labeled as “beginning Christmas songs: easy arrangements with simple harmonies.” Section 2 has 13 pieces labeled as “Christmas songs in the key of C Major with I, IV, and V7 chords) and Section 3 is the same but in the key of G Major.

Due to the primary-chord structure and keys included I would say book one is leveled with the student library up to level 3A.

I started trying some of Piano Pronto’s holiday books in the last couple of years. I haven’t used any of them long enough to say they’re ones I return to “year after year” but there are some unique little finds. One, in particular, you might consider is the Multi-Level Holiday Classics which includes 3 difficulty levels of each piece.

Some of my older students enjoyed the arrangements in Christmas Classics: Contemporary Lyrical Solos. That book would probably not be the best next step for him quite yet, but I still wanted to mention it.

I hope this helps!

~Amy

P.S. Just a heads up that by no later than next week I will be publishing a studio-licensed download of 8 Christmas songs to harmonize and play by ear.  This would be a wonderful resource for him to learn to play from chord charts and to play some of the most popular Christmas tunes without notation. Stay tuned!


Do you have any favorite Christmas collections? Share in the comments!

 

Organizing Your Hardcopy Music Books

It’s finally time to talk about organizing hardcopy music books! This is a topic I’ve wanted (and I know YOU’VE wanted) me to address for a long time. I’m sorry it took long!

Organizing music – whether hardcopy or digital – is one of the biggest organizational struggles for many teachers out there. It’s understandable why; I mean, who of us doesn’t own too much music?! 🙂

Should we organize by artist, genre, title, or dare I say color? LOL (Sorry, Home Edit, not this time!) There are so many ways!

Not only that, but we need to be able to locate music quickly and maintain perspective on what we own so we don’t keep buying music we already have.

Today we’ll look at a couple of different storage solutions for storing music as well as ways of categorizing for ease of use. You’ll also get a peek into my own personal system.

Are you ready to tackle that stash of music? Here we go!

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What Do You Use After Piano Safari 3?

This post is part of a series called Your Questions Answered that highlights questions from readers just like you. If you have a question you would like to submit, you can do so here.


Hi Amy,

I’m really enjoying your posts, especially Friday Finds!

Regarding method books, my question is: what do you use after Piano Safari, level 3? Or do you design your own curriculum?

Many thanks, as always for your help.

Warmly,

-MJP

 

Hi, MJP!

As far as method books go, I am definitely a zigzagger. Rarely do I put a student in one method book series covering books 1-2-3 back-to-back.

Sometimes that works just fine and can certainly give the student a feeling of progress by “moving to the next level.”

I find many students, however, transition better through levels if I either supplement between each one for a few weeks (or months) or even cover the same “level” in two different book series. For example, I might have a student finish Piano Safari Level 1 and then do Piano Adventures Level 1 before moving into Piano Safari Level 2.

One thing to keep in mind is that (with the Piano Adventures series in particular), I’m not one to give students both the Lesson and Performance books. I usually just do one or the other, especially if I’m weaving it between levels of another series.

In answering your more specific question on what I would do after Piano Safari 3, I often go to Piano Adventures 3B or into a repertoire series such as Celebration Series Repertoire Level 2.

(The authors of Piano Safari say that book 3 transitions nicely into Celebration Series Repertoire Level 3 but I always find doing a little in C.S. book 2 first a nice transition.)

Piano Safari 3 covers Major and Minor keys and technical skills in the keys of C/Am, G/Em, and F/Dm. Piano Adventures 3B focus on the minor keys only.

Here’s an example scenario.

  1. Piano Safari 2 (5-finger patterns)
  2. Piano Adventures 2B (Chords)
  3. Piano Adventures 3A (One-Octave major scales/keys of C, G, F)
  4. Piano Safari 3 (Two-Octave scales/keys of C/Am, G/Em, F/Dm)
  5. Piano Adventures 3B (Two-Octave scales/keys of Am, Em, Dm)

This may be a little excessive example overlapping however, something like this might work for a student who is professing a little slower. Also, as I said previously, keep in mind this would just include one book in the P.A. series (such as a lesson or performance)

I hope this gives you some ideas. Good luck!

~Amy

 


Reader friends, do you have any suggestions?

MJP and I would love to hear where you take your students when they finish Piano Safari Level 3. Please share in the comments!

Friday Finds #218

Summer Repertoire

Happy May! If you missed last week’s big April re-cap, you can read it here: Friday Finds #217 Best of April.

I don’t know about you, but I often struggle to remember to put in music orders far enough in advance from when new terms start to actually have music by the first lesson!

So, today, I’m sharing some resources to help you as you plan your student’s Summer repertoire. This list focuses on what I would call a more relaxed repertoire such as popular tunes, what my teens like to call “flowy” music,  and some fun and unique patterned repertoire.

You’ll also see a few favorite repertoire lists from other bloggers as well. Let me know what fun repertoire you have planned for your students this Summer in the comments!

P.S. This week, I answered a reader’s question regarding how I run my Summer lessons. Catch that post here.

 

1

Back in 2018, my studio’s Spring Recital theme was “Songs we Know.” In a follow-up post, I shared a list of some favorite books with popular tunes.

 

2

Will Bailey has a great site full of fun original music kids seem to enjoy. I especially love his Way Cool Keyboarding Books for teens who play at a mid-late elementary level.

The music is very patterned and young teens absolutely love the way it sounds. Plus, they get a taste of how to play chord charts intertwined between each piece.

 

3

Piano Music for Teens (Lauren Lewandowski)

Favorite Beautiful Modern Piano Music for Teens (Jill Ice)

 

4

Who doesn’t love fun variations on Chop Sticks? Here are a few I keep bookmarked:

Chopped Sticks Rag for Three by Joyce Grill (1 piano, 6 hands / Early Intermediate)

C.S. Theme and Variations by Randall Compton (1 piano, 4 hands / Early Advanced)

Whitewater Chopped Sticks by Calvin Jones (Early Advanced)

 

5

Summer might be a good time to explore the rote repertoire series, Blitz Books, from Samantha Coates.

 

6

How about having students spend time learning some tunes by ear and harmonizing? Perhaps better yet, have them sing the melody while chording in the RH and playing octaves or other patterns in the left.

Here are 147 Tunes to Harmonize (Piano Pantry) to help get you started!

 

7

Chrissy Ricker’s Let’s Quest! (video game-inspired music) Songbook or any of Andrea and Trevor Dow’s Classical Pop Sessions would be a fun way to change things up for students in the summer!

 

8

Summer is a wonderful time to do a studio-wide project to learn the important Happy Birthday tune. Use my new Happy Birthday by Ear teaching resources to guide both you and your students through the process!

 

 

Advanced Arrangements of Sacred Music

This post is part of a series called Your Questions Answered that highlights questions from readers just like you. If you have a question you would like to submit, you can do so here.

 


Hi.

I have searched the internet for decades, always looking for sacred piano arrangements that are very very advanced level. I play all of Rudy Atwood’s and Harold DeCou’s piano arrangement solos, and have wanted new material.

The problem is that no matter what piano book or piano sheet music I look at on the internet, all of them are too easy, and bore me, since they are not a challenge to me at all. I am looking for titles of piano arrangement books of sacred music, whether classical or jazz style.

Do you know the names of some advanced enough music books, or the names of some Christian piano arrangers who still have this kind of music in print to where I could order it?

I hold concerts at times, and find that it’s hard to find new music that is advanced as I am looking for. It almost seems to me so far, that it was more in the 50’s-70’s when this type of music was published.

Nowdays the big name seems to be for instance, “Hal Leonard”, etc, and their music is way too easy for me. I love the hard stuff, where it takes me time to work it out, instead of material that I can play right on the spot with no challenge to it.

If you have any ideas of where I could find (for sure) material this advanced, would you please let me know? Please don’t send me to all these many many sites I have looked under for hours and hours, never to find.

Also, I am the type where I need to be able to view a sample of the music, so I know what I’m ordering, to make sure it’s not too easy, and a lot of them do not show samples.

If you have any ideas, would you please email me back? Thank you. I know I’m asking a lot.

-Sincerely Yours, M

 

Hi, M,

I do have some suggestions and am happy to help!

The first group is books that I have played over the years and enjoyed. Phillip Keveren and Mark Hayes have always been my go-to but I would say Mark Hayes verges on having more advanced arrangments that you are likely looking for.

I agree with you that it can be really frustrating to be looking for music and not be able to preview it – especially when we’re in 2020! To help you out, I did a little searching for each book I’ll list here and I will link to it ONLY if the location has a preview available. 🙂

I find JW Pepper and Alfred both do pretty good in some instances with offering previews. Sheet Music Plus sometimes as well, but not always.

  • Worship with a Touch of Jazz by Phillip Keveren (jazzy arrangements of more contemporary – but still older – worship songs)
  • Well-Tempered Jazz by Mark Hayes (wonderful jazzy arrangements of older hymns and gospel songs)
  • Well-Tempered Praise III by Mark Hayes (Simple Gifts / I Need Thee Every Hour, etc.)
  • Praise Classics by Mark Hayes (older choruses like Bind Us Together, As the Deer, etc.)
  • Open My Heart to Worship by Mark Hayes (more contemporary – but still older – worship songs like Above All  and Open the Eyes of My Heart)

The three books linked above are to JW Pepper’s website, but the last two books by Mark Hayes are also available for preview on Alfred’s website. It appears there is another book he has as well called “Gospel Classics” that also has a preview available on Alfred’s website.

This next group of books are ones that I’m familiar with but have not played from a lot myself. I think you may find these even closer to what you’re looking for here as they’re quite virtuosic!

  • Marilyn Hamm has some wonderful advanced arrangements. If you visit her page on the Alfred publisher’s website and click on each individual book, they do give you Sample Pages under the Product Description. In the past, I have played some from an older book of hers – “One Lord, One Faith”. You can preview that particular book on Sheet Music Plus and JW Pepper.
  • Dino Kartsonakis is an incredibly OLD arranger to name, so there aren’t a lot of purchase options out there except on eBay (I searched “Dino Kartsonakis Piano Sheet Music”). The book I grew up with and remember I managed to find here, but there is no preview. I can attest, however, that his music was incredibly virtuosic!!
  • Jesus Shall Reign by Victor Labenske (One of my adult students played out of this book and it was fairly virtuosic from what I remember but there is no preview online.)

I really hope you can find something that works well with what you’re looking for. Best of luck!

~Amy

 


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Favorite Intermediate-Level Sheet Music Piano Solos

This is the final of three posts highlighting some of my favorite sheet music piano solos for students.

These favorites lists are the result of a year-long focus in my studio, exploring the wide range of sheet music solos in publication. If you would like to read about the 9 things I learned from that project, check out this post.

Since I have quite a few to mention, I decided to divide the list into multiple posts by-level. Today I’ll be sharing favorite pieces at the Early Intermediate, Intermediate, and Late Intermediate levels including the reason I love it and a link where you can purchase.

If you missed the first two posts, here they are:

Favorite Sheet Music Piano Solos for Halloween,

Favorite Elementary-Level Sheet Music Piano Solos


Please note I am an affiliate in the Sheet Music Plus Easy Rebates program which simply means if you purchase any of these pieces using the links I provide, I will get a small percentage back without it costing you any extra.


 

Early Intermediate

A Melancholy Night by Naoko Ikeda

Why I love it: It uses a waltz accompaniment pattern, warmed with 7th chords, and features a portion with the melody in the left hand.

Buy it at Sheet Music Plus

 

An Enchanted Castle by Pat Boozer

Why I love it: The left hand is challenged using a single-note accompaniment pattern with a leap of a 10th.

Buy it at Sheet Music Plus

 

Garden of Dreams by Naoko Ikeda

Why I love it: I would argue that this piece is more Intermediate level as the LH waltz accompaniment in the key of A major changes chord inversions frequently posing quite a challenge for an early intermediate student.

Buy it at Sheet Music Plus

 

Midnight Express by Christopher Fisher

Why I love it: The Presto tempo and alternating 5th-octave accompaniment patterns make this a great challenge piece.

Buy it at Sheet Music Plus

 

Moonlight by Lee Galloway

Why I love it: Written in 12/8 time, the left-hand broken chord pattern walks down by half steps and changes harmony each measure.

Buy it at Sheet Music Plus

 

Nocturne by Paul Sheftel

Why I love it: Once again, the left-hand features an extended broken chord pattern that is great for students at this level.

Buy it at Sheet Music Plus

 

Snowflakes in Spring by Naoko Ikeda

Why I love it: Various textures and an absolutely beautiful melody. Like many of the pieces by Naoko, I would counter that this piece is slightly more challenging than early intermediate.

Buy it at Sheet Music Plus

 

Tarantella Viva! by Melody Bober

Why I love it: Vibrant triple-meter piece

Buy it at Sheet Music Plus

 

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Favorite Elementary-Level Sheet Music Piano Solos

This is the second of three posts that will highlight some of my favorite sheet music piano solos for students.

These favorites lists are the result of a year-long focus in my studio, exploring the wide range of sheet music solos in publication. If you would like to read about the 9 things I learned from that project, check out this post.

Since I have quite a few to mention, I decided to divide the list into three posts. Today I’ll be sharing favorite pieces at the Early Elementary, Elementary, and Late Elementary levels including the reason I love it and a link where you can purchase.

The first post featured Halloween-themed music and the next one will introduce Early Intermediate, Intermediate, and Later Intermediate pieces.


Please note I am an affiliate in the Sheet Music Plus Easy Rebates program which simply means if you purchase any of these pieces using the links I provide, I will get a small percentage back without it costing you any extra.


 

Early Elementary

Dancing Drums by Joyce Grill

Why I love it: It’s in Aeolian (Natural Minor) tonality and has a really catchy beat.

Buy it at Sheet Music Plus

 

I Like Bananas by Julie Knerr

Why I love it: A fun and silly piece that helps beginning students explore the range of the piano.

Buy it at PianoSafari.com

 

I Love Coffee from Piano Safari

Why I love it: A rote solo piece, I Love Coffee is a theme with six variations. There is a multitude of fun ways to use this piece both as a student solo and even in a small group.

Buy it at PianoSafari.com

 

IN MY DREAMS BY JENNIFER LINN

Why I love it: It has a beautiful melody that seems to plays around the tonic to start then moves into a lovely contrasting B section.

Buy it at Sheet Music Plus

 

Start Your Engines by Kevin Olson

Why I love it: Most early elementary pieces are catered to young children, but this one appeals to older students. I even had a 14-year old boy who played and love this piece.

It includes a B section where the student works on slowly accelerating (like a car) until the final three measures where they play “as fast as they can” culminating in a note cluster “crash” of the car.

Buy it at Sheet Music Plus

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Favorite Sheet Music Piano Solos for Halloween

This is the first of three posts highlighting some of my favorite sheet music piano solos for students.

These favorites lists are the result of a year-long focus in my studio, exploring the wide range of sheet music solos in publication. If you would like to read about the 9 things I learned from that project, check out this post.

Since I have quite a few to mention, I decided to divide the list into three posts. Today I’ll be sharing favorite Halloween-themed sheet music piano solos including the reason I love it and a link where you can purchase. I’m doing it first because Halloween will be here before we know it!

(Stay tuned for two more posts. The first will include favorite pieces at the Early Elementary, Elementary, and Late Elementary levels and the second post on Early Intermediate, Intermediate, and Later Intermediate pieces.)


Please note I am an affiliate in the Sheet Music Plus Easy Rebates program which simply means if you purchase any of these pieces using the links I provide, I will get a small percentage back without it costing you any extra.


P.S. I just saw that if you’re a member of MTNA, you can get an additional 10% off your order at Sheet Music Plus on top of their 8% Easy Rebates program!


 

Early Elementary

Halloween Costumes by Tom Gerou

Why I love it: The piece includes both the leading tone and subtonic in Am (G and G#) giving it a little more interesting flair.

Buy it at Sheet Music Plus  

 

Zoom, Zoom, Witch’s Broom by Nancy Faber

Why I love it: Its fast-moving tempo is a nice challenge for students. The piece also gives them a chance to experience the fermata, pedal, octave leaps.

Buy it at Sheet Music Plus

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Sheet Music Piano Solos: 9 lessons-learned from a 1-year project

This year marks the start of my 10th year of full-time piano teaching. While I’ve been teaching for 20 years, the first 10 were part-time (alongside other careers) with generally no more than 6-10 students at a time.

Ever since I started teaching full time, I’ve found myself focusing on one or two major things each year (not always intentionally, but quite recognizably in hind-sight).

Examples include learning to use a new program, improving my teaching in a particular way or area, trying a new method with as many students as possible at once, and so forth.


Last year I suddenly felt inspired to explore and become better acquainted with the gamut of sheet music solos.


 

Clueless and Curious

If you ever attend an MTNA National Conference or NCKP (The Piano Conference, you know that these single sheets (priced at $2-$3) are often handed out in exchange for submitting “coupons” with contact information in the exhibit halls.

Like many teachers, I’ve never used them continuously with students. Not only are they more expensive than a book, but their intent is more to supplement than supply a student’s repertoire.


Even though I’ve been teaching for 20 years, infrequent use of sheet music solos meant I was feeling a little clueless as to what was really out there and what my favorites were.


So, last year I vowed to use them more frequently. Basically, (almost) every student had one sheet music solo in progress at all times (almost). 🙂

In future posts, I’ll be highlighting some of my favorites but first, I want to share with you 9 things I learned from this project along the way.

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