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Learn New Music for World Piano Day



World Piano Day is here, and what a wonderful day it is!


For those of you who don't know what it is, World Piano Day is quite literally a day to celebrate all things piano. And what better day to do so than on the 88th day of the year (the piano has 88 keys. Get it!)


In 2023, our 88th day formula takes us to 29th March, and what better way to celebrate this day than to learn a brand new piece on the piano.


Don't panic, though! I don't expect that you'll be able to learn a whole new piece in just one day. But World Piano Day is a great excuse to widen your repertoire.



What is my Repertoire?



Your repertoire is usually what you most enjoy playing as a style. If you have formal piano lessons, you may have a firm grounding in classical music anyway and may, from your understanding of classical music, be able to further pinpoint the exact era that you wish to pursue more of;



Baroque



The Baroque period is 17th - 18th century, typically, and features composers such as Purcell, Handel and Bach. Performing Baroque music on piano often leads to far more artistic interpretation from the performer than is notated on account of scarcely having any dynamic markings in the scores. The reason for this is because of the limitations of what keyboard instruments they did have at the time - the organ (scores for which don't always translate too well to piano because of their elongated notes and fully tuned pedalboard) and the harpsichord (which is usually what you'll find, but bear in mind the harpsichord had no dynamic range so it really is performer's discretion). Quite often even tempo markings are omitted, which is why the beautiful and ever popular Pachelbel's Canon has been performed at several different speeds across the years!



Try Something New: "Keyboard Sonata in D Minor, Kk1" by Domenico Scarlatti



You may or may not have heard of the composer Domenico Scarlatti. Scarlatti wrote several sonatas ('keyboard sonatas'), and the great thing about them is that they were very short and fairly simple. Look out for his Keyboard Sonata (subsequently known now, of course, as Piano Sonata) in D Minor, Kk1. The score stretches a mere two pages, but because of both pages having their own repeat mark it creates a substantial length piece that can be learnt in a fairly short amount of time.





Classical


Whilst we have used the term classical as a bit of an umbrella term now to describe anything pre 20th century, (after which it tends to be referred to as 'modern classical'!), the classical era is fairly specifically 1750 and 1820. Nonetheless, names that we so readily associate with the era such as Beethoven and Mozart are indeed classical musicians! And, unlike the Baroque period, they had an instrument that revolutionised their 'keyboard' compositions - the pianoforte (literally the 'soft loud' in Italian, named as such because, unlike its predecessor - the harpsichord - the pianoforte could play different dynamics!). Therefore, anything composed for the pianoforte (or the piano, as we now know it!) was much more expressive and, whilst ornamentation was still found in many classical compositions, the invention of the pedalboard lead to new ways of expression that meant quite literally that fewer gaps had to be filled!



Try Something New: "Piano Fantasia in C Minor (K 475)" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart



Mozart wrote several piano sonatas, but his Piano Fantasia in C Minor (K 475) is particularly beautiful and fairly straightforward for the intermediate pianist to sightread. This is because:


  1. a lot of it is performed at a very steady tempo and

  2. Mozart's compositions utilised a lot of straightforward technique underneath its beautiful melodics, such as regularly repeating chordal patterns (arpeggiation or Alberti bass).


This is a particular favourite piece of mine to play, and I regret to say I'm no András Schiff (disclaimer every time I mention the name of a great pianist!). But here he is anyway, performing the entirety of this piece;





Romantic



Now we come into my most favourite 'classical' era - the Romantic. This is the time when the full potential of the piano was being explored, not least because of the rising popularity of the likes of opera and ballet. This rise led many composers to explore the compositional capacity of the instrument (and orchestral music as well, to be fair) from a much more narrative perspective. Composers such as Chopin would create Ballads and Waltzes where themes would be intertwined with mystery, rise and fall dynamically and tempo wise. Unpredictability was key, but never without good reason! It was all to create colour!


Don't panic - I'm not going to insist you try and learn Chopin specially for this! That would be cruel. Even the most professional of pianists and sight readers would balk at the thought.



Try Something New: "I Balladetone" by Edvard Grieg



Instead, I draw your attention to one of the most celebrated romantic composers of now and his time - Edvard Grieg, who was able to create the most fabulous soundscapes with both orchestra and piano. He composed a suite of piano works that was released across many books - 'Lyrische Stücke' ('Lyrical Pieces') and in Book 8 you can find the beautiful and remarkably-for-the-era straightforward piece that is titled 'I Balladetone' ('In Ballad Style').


Don't be fooled though - it's compositional simplicity does not mean that you can get away with a simplistic performance. This is one to really feel:





 

Of course, you may find that you repertoire is not necessarily of the classical style - even if you play. Your repertoire may be a little more 'ambitious' than that, and cross into more contemporary territory.



Jazz



Jazz is a completely different ball game to classical, although much of it does take its basic theory from a classical understanding.


Whilst I have to confess jazz in its extreme is not my forte, I would actively encourage anybody to try out at least one of the classical-jazz fusion composers of the early 20th century, as that will open up a whole new window of musical appreciation and understanding.



Try Something New: "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" by George Gershwin



Perhaps one of the most famous classical-jazz fusion composers is George Gershwin, who wrote such amazing pieces for piano as 'Rhapsody in Blue' and a host of preludes. Don't worry, though. This is extremely ambitious!


If you can get a hold of any of Gershwin's songbooks, you can get 2 - 3 page instrumental piano transcriptions of many of his songs that he wrote alongside his brother (lyricist Ira Gershwin) et al, such as my personal favourite: 'I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise';





Ragtime



Thanks to the piano master that is Scott Joplin, ragtime is practically associated with the piano in its entirety, although it doesn't necessarily have to be. Take Dickie Valentine's 'Old Piano Rag', for instance. With him singing the words to a typically ragtime melody and a typically ragtime accompaniment being orchestrated, it just shows how influential Joplin was.


Whilst there were other composers of piano rags - equally popular ones at their time too - such as Joseph Lamb or James Scott, it's hard not to revert back to the Joplin we all know and love (Scott!).



Try Something New: "Maple Leaf Rag" by Scott Joplin



I apologise for being obvious, but it can only be this one. Chances are if you play piano, you already know 'The Entertainer' in some capacity, so I'm going to throw his next most famous (or arguably most famous, depending on what you know). It's great fun to play, relatively simple to pick up yet it sounds super impressive and it's a crowdpleaser. It is, of course, the 'Maple Leaf Rag'.





Top Tip for digital piano users: virtually all digital pianos come preinstalled with a 'Honky Tonk' piano sound. Ragtime is literally designed for this sound, so why not give it a go?



 

Finding a Piece to Suit my Standard



Are you a beginner? Intermediate? Advanced?


Have you ever even played the piano before?


Don't worry! There's something for everybody to try and learn this World Piano Day!



Beginner: Classical and Romantic Music



Whilst it is true that classical music is one of the more complex styles to play, it doesn't mean that every single piece is a masterclass. For this reason I've actually omitted Baroque - not because all Baroque is easy, of course, but it's just then when Baroque is easy it's already at a standard that a beginner is well in tune with. Pieces such as Bach's Prelude and Fugue in C Major (from the Well Tempered Clavier) are pieces that can certainly be explored, but if you want to try something a little less obvious, read on.



Try Something New: "Moonlight Sonata - Adagio Sostenuto" by Ludwig Van Beethoven



Beethoven is arguably the most famous classical composer, and his piece 'Für Elise' has stood the test of time being a staple for beginner pianists. Chances are, therefore, that you can already play this!


Often mentioned in the same breath as this (not least because it is also Beethoven) is the beautiful 'Moonlight Sonata'. Whilst this is a fully fledged sonata in three parts (as many of his were), the beginner would benefit greatly from focusing on the first - and arguably most famous - movement: 'Adagio Sostenuto'.





Try Something New: "Träumerei" by Robert Schumann



It's very difficult to consider a lot of Romantic Music as beginner's music, and certainly not when the name Robert Schumann is thrown into the mix. However, his beautiful suite of music for the piano 'Kinderszenen' ('Scenes from Childhood') includes music that is of both beginner and intermediate standard. The piece 'Träumerei' is a great piece for beginners. It's slow enough to allow the performer time to read or contemplate their performance, and also features one or two techniques that may prove a fun challenge for the beginner such as a splayed (arpeggiated) chord towards the end, as well as some finger stretches that may not quite be natural yet to the player:





Intermediate: Baroque



Try Something New: "Air and Variations in E Major ('The Harmonious Blacksmith')" by George Frideric Handel



'The Harmonious Blacksmith' is a very simple theme which is repeated several times with variations - hence the genuine name of this beautiful composition.


This piece begins at the standard of a beginner's piece, but its progression into more complex rhythms and fingerings take it into an overall intermediate performer's territory.





Intermediate: Modern Classical



The most famous modern classical pianist and composer, of course, is Ludovico Einaudi. However there are just a few pieces cropping up that may be of competition.



Try Something New: "A River Flows in You" by Yiruma



Lee Ru-Ma a.k.a Yiruma is a South Korean pianist and composer. His approach to piano is extremely lyrical and demands an attention to detail to properly recognise the seemingly simple sounds of his composition. His most famous composition to a western audience, at least, is the rather stunning 'A River Flows in You'.





Try Something New: "Einfach" (from "Drei Romanzen") by Robert Schumann



This one sort of borders into advanced territory on account of;


  1. it is in F sharp major - not necessarily a difficult key in which to play but certainly a challenge to read, and...

  2. the right hand is written across two staves for the first 8 bars (which are then repeated with slight variation towards the middle of the piece).


Nonetheless, when it is mastered, it is a beautiful piece that can be performed with great confidence by the intermediate pianist.





Advanced: Latin American



I don't wish to suggest that Latin American music in itself is exclusively for advanced players, however when you are brought up on a certain training - such as classical - compositions by authentic Latin American composers can be a real challenge to read and to play, even just to wrap your head around due to the less conventional rhythms.



Try Something New: "Danza Del Gaucho Matrero" by Alberto Ginastera



One of the most famous pieces of Latin inspired music for piano is Alberto Ginastera's powerhouse 'Danzas Argentinas'. However, it is not for the faint hearted - that goes for listeners and performers. It is, however, just wonderful.


Full Disclaimer: I cannot play this yet, but it is on my list to learn!


Still, if you wish to beat me - the third movement - 'Danza Del Gaucho Matrero' is magnificent.





Advanced: Romantic Music



For those advanced pianists who really do wish to further their repertoire, the Romantic era was truly the era for that.



Try Something New: "Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23" by Frédéric Chopin



Well, of course I was going to go to Chopin. Chopin was the king of Romantic piano playing, with ornamentation, chromaticism and lavish scales, tempo changes, expression and pedal work beyond compare etc. etc. - so it only stands to reason that one of his pieces should be included. And one such piece of his that I adore is his 'Premiere Ballade' ('Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23). It takes a lot of work to get the fingering to such a standard as can be played at speed, but believe me - it is well worth it.






Advanced: Jazz Music



If you have some time to spare, why not give Gershwin your full appreciation and try his true masterpiece in its entirety as it was originally composed by the man himself - for piano solo.



Try Something New: "Rhapsody in Blue" by George Gershwin



Believe me, you will need patience with this piece. There will be bars that take weeks to perfect on account of how rapidly you need to perform them, how much finger independence is required to manoeuvre certain note progressions and how much determination is needed in performing to ensure that you hit the correct notes as hands are required to jump around an awful lot.


However, if you can achieve it you will be rewarded by being able to perform arguably one of the most complex jazz piano solos of all time.




 

...but I'm an Absolute Beginner!



Not a problem!


There are many pieces that are just perfect for the absolute beginner.


Head over to YouTube or your preferred platform and just have a look at tutorials for piano pieces. Simple things like 'Greensleeves', 'Chopsticks' or even 'Jingle Bells' are classic beginner pieces.


Do consider, however, how seriously you wish to take your piano playing. Do you want to be able to play piano properly by the end of it, or are you just interested in playing the pieces?


If the latter, there are many tutorial videos and apps out there that help you along by just focusing on which notes to press and when, but if you do wish to learn properly then make sure you opt for a video that explains in detail the geography of the notes, why you are doing certain things and gives you more context. In the long run, you'll be a better pianist for it!


 

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