Music Game #3: Playtime For Traditional Piano Teacher/Student

Piano Teachers: Want to play a fun new game that builds your student’s performance skills and practical knowledge of important music concepts? Try Music Game #3: Playtime For Traditional Piano Teacher/Studentdesigned for classical piano teachers with younger intermediate-level private students in mind. This game includes several practical ideas which pianists in the real world are expected to know, but often get overlooked during traditional music lessons. (The preceding 2 articles – Music Game #2 : “Happy Memories Retirement Home” and Music Game #1: “TipJar” – are games geared for high school-aged through older adult music students who have acquired more of a jazz/pop repertoire.)

In order to play any of these games, the student will need about a dozen pieces they can play reasonably well, either with or without the music.  This particular version could be beneficial if the student knows some basic music theory – key signatures for example – and terms used in classical music (tempo and expression markings). If not, this game would be a good vehicle to teach those concepts with teacher assisting as the student plays along. Remember to keep things playful, light and fun! Having handy access to notebooks, sheet music or a music book is fine too. Teachers will want to keep in mind the pieces each private student has studied in order to ask for appropriate “requests”. This helps ensure the most enjoyment from the game! 

During Game #3 the student pretends they are a paid actor playing the part of a pianist on a movie set, or filming a short TikTok video. Let’s pretend the student/actor gets a salary just for being on time acting the part, but may earn extra incentives/rewards for playing the piano convincingly well. The music teacher acts as the movie/video director and tells the student/actor to play certain  requests. The actor earns virtual “candy” or “stickers” if they play the director’s request. (Teachers can hand out real candy or stickers at their discretion of course, but just don’t offer to pay the child’s dental bills in case they score really high!)

10 Pieces of “Candy” are earned if actor/pianist plays the director’s request all the way through without restarting, making excuses or apologizing. Plus  actior/pianist must display an attitude of confidence – even when they make a few mistakes.

5 “Stickers” earned for attempting to play the request, but the result showed obvious struggles needing much more rehearsal and practice.

0 rewards earned for refusing to even attempt the directed request unless they promise to have it ready by next week’s lesson, in which case the teacher can give them 1 “sticker” for a sincere promise! When lesson time is up, the teacher/director totals the number of rewards, compares them with a potential 100% score of earnings. (For example, if there were 5 directions given during the half hour lesson, the highest possible score would be 50 “pieces of candy”. If the student earned 30 pieces of candy and 11 stickers they could keep trying to raise their score during future lessons.)

Below is a list of possible requests the teacher could ask of their student, depending on what they’ve learned during their lessons. I’ve included some very practical suggestions traditional piano teachers don’t normally teach, but are poplular requests in the real world: Playing for dancing, weddings, accompanying singers, keeping time to a steady beat for group practice, improvising to fill time, picking out a beloved hymn by ear, and the most popular song request that earns nice tips: Happy Birthday to You!

  1. Play music by a specific composer (Debussy? Chopin? Beethoven?)
  2. Play something in a minor key
  3. Play in a specified key of director’s choosing: This may include a scale, chord exercise, or piece of music in a key other than C major
  4. Play the newest or most recent tune you’ve learned
  5. Play the oldest tune you can think of (This may be the first piano piece ever learned, or something that was composed long ago)
  6. Play a music piece in 4/4 time (Moderato or medium tempo)
  7. Play a tune in 3/4 , 6/8 or changing tempo & meter (Chopin Waltz? Gigue?)
  8. Play a very slow tune (Largo, Andante, ballad tempo)
  9. Play the quickest tempo you can handle (Allegretto, Presto, Vivace,)
  10. Play music written for dance (March, Tango, or Tchaikovsky ballet selection?)
  11. Play a sad song, or a tune that evokes emotional release
  12. Play Happy Birthday To You (Key of “F“- roll a C7 arpeggio to give 1st pitch)
  13. Play a tune from a specific era (Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Impressionistic)
  14. Play the piano accompaniment to a Song (Shubert Lieder, Italian Art Song, Great American Songbook classic tune)
  15. Play a tune that has a key change (This could be a piece in Sonata Form or a 32 bar standard AABA piece that goes to a new key at the bridge)
  16. Play a tune with no more than 3 chords (Afro Cuban Montuno, early Mozart, Country tune, Children’s Song or a 12 Bar Blues)
  17. Pick out the melody to Amazing Grace by ear on just the black keys
  18. Improvise using just the black keys (you can’t go wrong with those 5 notes)
  19. Play a tune suitable for a wedding
  20. Play a piece in time to a metronome or with a play-along track

Do you have any to add to this list? Please reply in the comments below!

Find music video tutorials here:  https://www.youtube.com/c/DebbieDenke

 

Block Chords (Locked Hands Style) vs Spread Chords: How Pianists Create Them

There are certain types of rich chord techniques the jazz pianist ought to have under their fingers in a piano/bass/drums or larger group setting. Both Block and Spread Chords may be used for a full sounding effect during the melody of certain tunes. Additionally, these styles may be used to build intensity during a piano solo, or culminating in impressive spread chords at the solo’s highpoint. Continue reading “Block Chords (Locked Hands Style) vs Spread Chords: How Pianists Create Them”

Big Ideas For Small Hands: How To Write a Full Sounding Piano Arrangement

Let’s take the lovely ballad Skylark (by Johnny Mercer/Hoagy Carmichael), and learn how to enhance a ballad’s melody with beautiful chords and a foundational bass line. In this video observe how I took a chart from an old fakebook and updated some chords more to my liking, a process called reharmonization:


Continue reading “Big Ideas For Small Hands: How To Write a Full Sounding Piano Arrangement”

Tea For Two/My Little Suede Shoes (Piano Medley)

This quirky mambo/cha-cha mashup of 2 seemingly unrelated tunes had been buzzing inside my brain for a week. What would happen if I paired this Vincent Youmans 1924 classic with a Charlie Parker mambo, put them both in the same key, mashed the tunes together with a Latin Jazz Dance Beat, figured out how to create that groove for the solo pianist’s left hand while exploring the possibilites of how to utilize the range of the piano for a ‘hands on the keys bird’s eye view’ tutorial/demonstration, filmed with a gooseneck cell phone clamp attached to the music rack? Continue reading “Tea For Two/My Little Suede Shoes (Piano Medley)”

When The Saints Go Marching In (Lesson in Jazz Harmony)

Memorial Weekend 2020 felt like a relevant time to revisit this recording of When The Saints Go Marching In, to honor the lives of heroes lost during both the past and most recent of days. The concept of my arrangement was similar to a New Orleans Funeral or Celebration of Life – a contemplative piano introduction, followed by a jubilant jazz band send off: Continue reading “When The Saints Go Marching In (Lesson in Jazz Harmony)”

Adding Chords to a Jazz Ballad: Skylark Tutorial

Ever wonder how jazz musicians come up with inspired chords when playing ballads? Reharmonization can be a fun experiment to try!  Watch my video to find 3 ways to create a compelling bass line plus some sweet chord voicings to play under the melody of Hoagy Carmichael’s classic composition Skylark:

 

It’s All About YOU! Party Game

How To Play the Musical “Guess that YOU-tune” Game:

The host will want a copy of Debbie Denke’s album, It’s All About YOU!*

 

Additionally the host will want a pencil for each guest, a fun dessert to serve for intermission, a prize for the winner (I suggest something musical like an album or a music book as an award), and have copies of the list of clues for each guest (or a page with blank lines numbered 1-16), plus a copies of the lyrics to #16 It Had To Be You. Clues and lyrics are found in this site under the Downloads tab above. Allow about 90 minutes to play this game.

Continue reading “It’s All About YOU! Party Game”