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Better together: Chamber music for all levels

Miki Sawada with her students
What pieces do you remember performing as a young pianist? Were they solo pieces? As pianists, we are lucky to have at our fingertips a seemingly infinite body of solo masterworks. To be able to sit down at an instrument and create music alone is a joyful privilege. It naturally follows that much of traditional piano pedagogy centers around the gre...
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Pupil Saver: Unique; reflective music

Finding interesting late-intermediate literature can be a challenge. In addition to teaching the repertoire standards, I always look for something a bit more out-of- the box, quite often a contemporary composition. I find that the  contemporary music of Dianne Goolkasian Rah bee fits my needs perfectly, and her two sets of preludes provide a w...
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Exploring the melodrama: Works for narrator and piano

Of all the different fusions of literature and music, the melodrama is by far the most neglected and misunderstood.  Since the late eighteenth century, composers have written works for narrator accompanied by piano, orchestra, or chamber ensemble. The first melodramas were declamations with orchestral accompaniment, but over time recitations a...
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Drive and surprise

Here's a piece that captures the attention of everyone from precocious seven-year-olds to late beginners of all ages.  Susan Ogilvy's Toccatina (Alfred) is suitable for students from the late-elementary to early-intermediate levels, is terrifically fun to play, and is often very easy to memorize. Most importantly, however, it sounds more diffi...
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Impressionism for intermediates

​Helen Boykin's 1947 impressionistic gem, Seafoam (Schirmer/Hal Leonard), has remained a student favorite for almost seventy years. I've taught this intermediate piece many times, but it is also a solo that profoundly motivated me when I was a young student. The majority of the piece relies on a bold left-hand melody, with the right hand repeating ...
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How do you avoid assigning repertoire that is too difficult too soon?

​Each spring, I adjudicate festivals and write comments, review auditions for a summer program that I co-direct, and judge precollegiate competitions. Sitting with other pianists on these panels, the conversation is often something like: "Wasn't it wonderful the way Student X played repertoire at his or her level with polish and fine preparati...
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A heavenly, bravura piece

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I am often confronted with the need for intermediate literature that will not only motivate students, but cover up any deficiencies they might have (I am sure we have all had this experience). Case in point: I had a transfer student who could barely sight-read, which made learning every piece take forever, and proper technique, hand position, and p...
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Closer Look Pieces for warm weather

This spunky solo is a toe-tapping audience pleaser. A humorous recurring bumblebee motif alternates with jazzy broken chords and syncopated rhythms to create a very visual and dancelike aural story. Students move quickly around the piano, exploring ever-changing textures and articulations. The few pedal markings for sonority do not require a legato...
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A bravura piece for the left hand

M elody Bober's multivolume set of Grand One-Hand Solos for Piano (Alfred) offers some really cool pieces for the intermediate-to-late-intermediate pianist.  ​Although they are written for one hand (either right or left), the compositions are interesting, musical, and highly motivational. Many teachers will use this collect...
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The day of the thirty-two: Stewart Goodyear performs a Beethoven marathon

I recently endured something that probably no human should attempt. ​I heard, on Saturday, October 5, 2013, in Davis, California, at the University of California, Stewart Goodyear perform ALL of Beethoven's thirty-two piano sonatas IN ONE DAY. Since this was Mr. Goodyear's fourth reading of the "New Testament"—he had already performed thi...
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"Kamarinskaya” from Tchaikovsky’s Album for the Young

What exactly is a "kamarinskaya"? (The word is pronounced with an accent on the second syllable—ka MA rinskaya.) In his Album for the Young, Tchaikovsky* gives each piece both a Russian and a French title. In French, he identifies his Kamarinskaya as a Chanson populaire—a folk song. But the kamarinskaya is certainly not a "song" (just try to sing i...
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What a Find!

My mother, who is also a piano teacher, enjoys finding and buying piano music for me —even to this day—and she usually finds really great stuff at her public library. Go figure! "Pizzicati" (a polka from the ballet Sylvia ) was one of her recent finds. Written by Léo Delibes and arranged by Hans-Günter Heumann, this piece of music was on the top of...
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Preparing an Audition Program

As the conservatory audition season cycles in once again —as predictable as the ice and snow that always accompanies it in my neck of the woods—it has occurred to me that a simple checklist for teachers might be useful in preparing guileless students for what lies in store. Thus the following brief suggestions for "less pain, more gain": 1) A year ...
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Imagination and mischief

Students who love stories of magical worlds and mythical creatures will jump at the chance to learn William Gillock's early-intermediate "Elfin Pranks." This whimsical piece set in E minor and cut time is loaded with teaching opportunities. Although "Elfin Pranks" is available in solo form, I prefer to use the version in Gillock's collection Accent...
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Gretchaninoff's musical gems

My teacher Eugene List once commented, "The piano literature is so vast, that at any level pianists can find beautiful music they are able to play." As a teacher, it is so easy to teach the same pieces over and over and not explore what is available today. Yeeseon Kwon has extensively studied the music of the Russian composer Alexander Gretchaninof...
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Let's order in!

​Occasionally I have a student who is reluctant to move past the first method book, or is easily discouraged when things get the least bit challenging. Some are unwilling even to explore past a C-major pentascale. Fortunately, I discovered "Pepperoni Pizza," a captivating little piece from Mona Rejino's elementary-level collection, Just for Kids (H...
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Learning Bach's Short Preludes: A Sequential Approach

Johann Sebastian Bach's Eighteen Short Preludes are exquisite miniatures and exceptional teaching pieces that provide a necessary stage of development from the shorter works in the Anna Magdalena Notebook  to the Two- and Three-Part Inventions and other larger works of Bach. Far from easy, they are often glossed over in favor of studying the I...
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Piano Music Inspired by Art

Piano Music Inspired by Art
Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art. Claude Debussy With the rise of program music in the nineteenth century, composers of piano music turned to the visual arts for subject matter and inspiration. This reflected the Romantic concept of combining arts, culminating in the Gesamtkunstwerk [total work of art] of Richard Wagner. 1 Ge...
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Warm Music for Cold Days

Catherine Rollin's early-intermediate solo Winter Waltz (Alfred) is a heartwarming way to welcome the coldest season of the year Its mature sound will inspire students to stay inside and practice. The A section looks easy to learn; nonetheless, it is loaded with wonderful technical opportunities for the student. Set in A minor, the left-hand melody...
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Variations

She always wore a cherry-red coat... ​She always wore a cherry-red coat. At least that is what I remember she wore, whether that fact is true or not. Her gray hair surrounded her head in a fluff that looked like a halo pushed slightly askew, and she walked quickly, her back bent slightly forward in what looked like anticipation, but was probably os...
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The Piano Magazine is the leading resource for pianists, piano teachers, and piano enthusiasts. We bring you informative, interesting, and inspiring ideas on all aspects of piano teaching, learning, and performing. The official name of Clavier Companion magazine was changed to the Piano Magazine in 2019.

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