Thursday, October 30, 2008

8 Ways to Improve Your Enjoyment of the Piano Through Playing Christmas Music

As the holiday season approaches, the perfect season for developing keyboard skills in unexpected ways also approaches through playing Christmas piano music. Pianists often miss out on much of the fun and growth that playing festive holiday rep can bring. Here are some of the benefits from learning and playing selections from this huge body of repertoire and how you can accomplish them:

1. Super-size your repertoire. Many pianists at the intermediate and senior level in preparation for exams, recitals, competitions, and college auditions, only work on a handful of pieces, missing out on many of the lessons that learning a larger repertoire can bring. When you delve into the world of Christmas music, you find that there is a huge depth of carols and songs that form the corpus of the Western tradition, most of which are not too difficult to play. Why learn one Christmas carol when you can learn 20 of them?

2. Enjoy the fun of music-making with others. Christmas is a prime time to discover the joy of leading friends and family in song. The usual separation of performer and audience is gone in much Christmas music-making. If you play, they will sing!

3. Learn how to play from a fake book. One of the most gratifying keyboard skills (and one that most classical pianists have turned their backs on) is the ability to play the accompaniment of a melody from popular chord notation in a fake book. Learning the language of pop chords can be tricky, but an easy path into this skill is through learning to add chords to melodies you already know. Once you've got the hang of it, you can add your own accompaniment style and personal vibe.

4. Learn how to transpose. You're playing carols at a family Christmas party and after the first carol, someone complains: "Uh, I can't sing that high. Can we sing it in a lower key?" This is a prime opportunity to learn the lost art of transposition. What helps here as well is already knowing the melody line, and learning the ear, sight, and tactile clues that can help you to develope one of the core skills of jazz pianists, and one of the most neglected skills of classical pianists.

5. Learn to sightread. So much Christmas music, so little time. What do you do if someone plunks Christmas music in front of you that you've never seen in a roomful of merrymaking family members? Why, you sightread, of course. And there's no better place to learn to sightread than in festive situations, with the pressure off. Those skills your piano teacher taught you, which seemed so theoretical and arcane at your lesson the other day, suddenly come back with a vengeance to assist you becoming being the hero of the evening, and a keyboard skills ninja to boot.

6. Learn correct rhythm. Here's another skill to be learned in the heat of battle: that a steady pulse is an integral part of keeping everyone together in group singing situations. And what better way to keep them together than by playing with a steady and reliable beat. The flipside, of course, is that any lack of rhythmic pulse will leave the singers in a swirling cacophony of disarray and headed to the bar for another shot of rum and eggnog.

7. Drastically reduce performance anxiety. Many performers experience crippling cases of nerves in the minutes and hours before performances. One of the best ways to solve this common malady is to both perform more and perform in positive, low-stress situations. The lessons learned in playing carols for a roomful of family members on Christmas Eve can easily be brought into the concert hall, along with a realization that the social aspects of music-making are what make it such a wonderful way to connect with people.

8. Develop functional keyboard skills. Playing piano isn't just about preparing music for your lessons, doing exams, and winning competitions. It's also about being able to bring spontaneous enjoyment to people through one of the most social of all musical instruments, and learning the skills that can bring a lifetime of enjoyment to yourself and others.

Below are links to some useful Christmas music collections. Be aware that all Christmas music at Sheet Music Plus is discounted 20% until November 20, 2008, so make sure you order early enough to take advantage of these prices.

ReaderLook InsideReader"s Digest Merry Christmas Songbook For voice, piano and guitar chords. P/V/C Mixed Folio; Piano/Vocal/Chords. Reader"s Digest Publications. Easy-to-play arrangements and lyrics for more than 100 songs. Christmas and Holiday. SMP Level 4 (Intermediate). Songbook, performance CD (23 tracks) and lyric booklet. Vocal melody, piano accompaniment, lyrics, chord names and guitar chord diagrams. 255 pages. Published by Alfred Music Publishing (AP.48-0762108681)
...more info

Charlie Brown ChristmasLook InsideCharlie Brown Christmas By Vince Guaraldi. For solo piano. Piano Solo Songbook. Jazz, TV and Christmas. SMP Level 7 (Late Intermediate). Songbook. Chord names and illustrations (does not include words to the songs). 40 pages. Published by Hal Leonard (HL.313176)
...more info

Level 1 - Christmas BookLook InsideLevel 1 - Christmas Book (Piano Adventures®). By Nancy Faber and Randall Faber. For Piano. Faber Piano Adventures®. Christmas. 1. Softcover. 20 pages. Faber Music #FF1138. Published by Faber Music (HL.420206)
...more info

Sleigh Ride (Piano, Four-Hands)Look InsideSleigh Ride (Piano, Four-Hands) By Leroy Anderson (1908-1975). Arranged by Michael Edwards. For piano four-hands. Duet or Duo; Piano Duet (1 Piano, 4 Hands). Late Intermediate level piece for the Piano Duet event with the National Federation of Music Clubs (NFMC) Festivals Bulletin 2008-2009-2010. Traditional Pop and Christmas. SMP Level 8 (Early Advanced). Single. Primo and secondo parts. 12 pages. Published by Alfred Music Publishing (AP.26544)
...more info

My First Piano Adventure┬« Christmas - Book AMy First Piano Adventure® Christmas - Book A (Pre-Reading). By Nancy Faber and Randall Faber. Faber Piano Adventures®. Pre-Reading. Softcover. 16 pages. Faber Music #FF3001. Published by Faber Music (HL.1471)
...more info

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