Song sheets: the barebones to guide music making

On my first day of taking the intermediate ukulele course in Hawaii, I was surprised to witness the entire class playing and singing along. We were sight reading and sight singing, skills that take years to master for musicians.

That morning at Maui College in January 2016, all we had in front of us was a single sheet of paper that contained the lyrics, chord names, and chord diagrams. No music notation. No Italian words about tempo and dynamics in italic. No tablature. No abbreviations. No other music symbols. How could a single sheet of paper with minimal information guide music making?

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Guitar meets piano; guitar orchestra & ukulele club

When musicians meet, they want to play together. They exchange recordings of themselves. Playing together is a way to establish whether they are compatible, whether they want to collaborate, whether there is a future together.

Such was the case when I met a classical guitarist more than seventeen years ago. He copied a recording of his guitar quartet on CD as a takeaway gift.

The next time we met, I brought the only piano guitar piece I owned — an arrangement of Vivaldi’s guitar concerto for guitar and piano. Eager to find more pieces to play, I visited music bookshops in my travel as magazine editor. He arranged music for us to play. Before long, we had collected and arranged enough sheet music to give a concert. Soon composers started writing for our piano guitar duo.

The subtitle of our first concert at the Makawao Union Church in Maui, in December 2007, was “four centuries of music for piano and guitar” —- which comprised of arrangements, original compositions, and commissions. We released the live recording of the concert as a CD in January 2011.

Nearly two decades later, the guitarist is conductor of a guitar orchestra while I have founded my own ukulele group. How do we combine the two? Is it possible?

Continue reading “Guitar meets piano; guitar orchestra & ukulele club”

Playing music you love by reading notes

These days students are more motivated to learn to play music they have already heard of than to discover music by reading notes. There are many methods to communicate or transcribe music nowadays.

Besides playing the music on CD, via youtube, via iTunes, on iPod, on radio, on record player, you can enjoy it even more if you can play it on a musical instrument. Of course, you can always sing it acapella.

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How to find free sheet music

What is the secret to finding free sheet music online?

My piano students are all excited that they get to play a piece of their choice for their final recital. I said, “I will show you how to find free sheet music. I believe that we can always tailor a piece to your level of playing. This means you can literally play anything you want!”

Just over 10 years ago, an editor of an online magazine that I wrote for asked me,”Is it true that you can find free sheet music online?”

Nowadays, that’s an understatement.

Not only can you find sheet music easily online, you can also download them for free.

What’s the secret?

There are pianists eager to figure out how to play music they want to play, and if they also want to share, that’s the bonus.

There are youtube tutorials of how to play a piece, step by step.

There are file share sites where you offer your version of a particular music score, in exchange for music you want.

I participated in such a site. It was literally seconds before I got the score I wanted.

The secret is how to formulate the keywords to find the sheet music you want.

There are also avid music lovers who scan music they bought or got from the library or elsewhere.

There’s also the famous IMSLP project. I tell my students: there’s a world-wide phenomenon of scanning and sharing sheet music of works of composers who have been dead for seventy years, for after that period, they and their relatives and heirs lose the copyright.

Sheet music will soon be ubiquitous.

…. but only for those that can read music notation.

And that’s where I come in.

I teach people how to read music!

Sheet music for sale

Why couldn’t I decide on which sheet music to keep earlier? Then I’d be able to find proper homes for each kind of sheet music. FOR SALE: SHEET MUSIC & 400 CDS & OTHER BOOKS Saturday 1st September at the Monument House, Utrecht

Books on bookshelf for sale
Books on bookshelf for sale

When Robert told me a few weeks ago that he had packed my sheet music into 12 moving boxes, I mentally switched off. What he really meant was, “What are we going to do about your 12 boxes of sheet music?”

These books and scores were stacked in 3 huge Ikea book cases. Every time he mentioned my music, I fell silent. Already I had to let go of 400 CDs. sheet music was even more precious. I was not ready to decide.

To make space to photograph the house for sale, he declared that he’d move the boxes into the bicycle shed. Out of sight, out of mind.

I have nowhere to put those 12 boxes in Maui. I don’t want to pay for shipping. I simply don’t want to deal with it. Why not?

I had gone through my music in London before I decided to pack them into boxes and move them to the Netherlands in 2003 and 2004. Thereafter I continued my curious hobby of visiting music bookstores and music libraries to select sheet music to buy or copy. This unusual pastime of a person who loves to sightread started a long time ago. It accompanied my travels. Every time I visited a city that had a music book store, I would treat myself to buying sheet music.

Houston. New York. London. Amsterdam. Paris. Milan. Prague. Taipei.

I began by collecting music for piano solo. When I discovered the joy of piano duets with my piano teacher at Duke University, I started collecting music for 4-hand, 1 piano and then 4-hand, 2-piano. When I discovered the joy of chamber music, I started seeking scores for piano and other instruments whose players I befriended: clarinet, flute, bassoon, oboe, French horn, violin, viola, cello, harp, guitar, recorder. I bought the music so that I could play them by myself or with others.

Once at conservatory, I reasoned that it was important to learn about different instruments so that I could compose for them. While pursuing my teaching diploma in piano, I began collecting piano pedagogy, methods, techniques, and other related books. Collecting sheet music was no longer merely to feed my insatiable thirst for sightreading. It was necessary for teaching piano, my composition degree, and performance. I discovered the buzz of performing long before composing and teaching. In the Netherlands, the world of getting paid to perform with guitar, French horn, cello, and voice opened up — as did the need to expand my chamber music repertoire.

I knew that I was the most loyal client of second-hand sheet music stores. There were two I visited on a regular basis: one in London and the other in Amsterdam. I also knew that the owners regularly scanned the obituary column in local newspapers, looking for famous musicians that had died. They knew that they could get their sheet music for next to nothing. They’d get them in bulk and price each piece individually.

Second-hand sheet music are typically cheaper than newly printed scores. However, often second-hand sheet music is no longer in print and thus no longer available. As a graduate student in London, I’d go after second-hand sheet music. As a full-time magazine editor traveling between London and New York, I’d go for first-hand music books and collections. Over time, I built a sizable library of sheet music that included composers from A to Z.

With less than 2 weeks before Robert’s return to Boston, I finally gave in. “Let’s take a look at those boxes,” I said.

There were now 15 boxes stacked in the garden house bicycle shed.

The first box took half an hour to go through. The second box a little less than half an hour. By the 3rd box, we had gained momentum and criteria. Say good-bye to anything that can be found on the Internet, too hard to play, boring, old, falling apart, or duplicated. Keep the really interesting pieces that I can’t get anywhere else, including out-of-print editions and those I paid dearly for.

We are now half way through my music. I’m letting go of all chamber music except for piano & guitar duos that we’ve yet to try but want to. I’m parting with that collection of Dutch composers, piano duets, piano methodology and technique books, easy piano for students, and countless binders full of photocopied sheet music — which Robert said is illegal to sell.

Out of 15 boxes, I expect to extract enough for just 3 boxes to ship over.

That’s a lot of music to say good-bye to. A lot of music I won’t be playing. A lot of time spent choosing and acquiring the music.

I just hope what I don’t keep will find a home very soon.

FOR SALE:
400 CDs and sheet music for piano, duets, piano methods, piano technique, chamber music with piano, dictionaries, travel guidebooks, and more!!

Saturday 1 September 2012 from 1 to 4 pm
Keulsekade 25, 3531 JX Utrecht
or by appointment (REPLY BELOW)

Piano orchestra

Definition of piano orchestra = many players on many pianos making orchestral sound, a rare event.

What do you do with 22 students in a classroom of just 15 electric pianos (2 of which do not sound) and one portable synthesizer for 3 hours?

  1. Let them take turns at the piano, one at a time. Give a lecture to the rest of the class. Swap.
  2. Put two students on each keyboard and have them play duets.
  3. Put two students on each keyboard and conduct them like an orchestra.

When I googled “piano orchestra” I found a variety of piano concertos and questions about the role of piano in the orchestra.

Truth is, it is rare to see so many pianos in one room, unless they are all for sale, in which case you can’t play on them as you wish.

On day one, I asked my students to play just the black keys. I split them into several section. One section played successive quarter notes. Another joined with half notes. The third joined with whole notes. I then improvised on high treble.

My father used to play Chinese songs just on black keys. Pentatonic music (using just the 5 notes of the 5 black keys) blend well in any order in any octave.

Now is my chance to deconstruct my favourite works, be they classical concertos or pop songs. Assign the parts to the various pianists. This way, everyone gets to play. Doubling up is fine. The string section does it all the time.

What I want to get across is simple:

  1. Most students of piano learn to play solo piano works. They advance to become soloists.
  2. Some learn to accompany choir or other instruments or voice.
  3. Others move on to become organists.
  4. Whether you’re an accompanist or organist, you serve the choir or congregation. You’re not equal.
  5. But when you play in an orchestra, ensemble, or chamber music group, it’s totally different.
  6. String players know this. Wind players, too. Brass players. Singers in choirs.
  7. But pianists in a piano orchestra? That’s nearly unheard of.

It’s hard to find pianos you can play in one place. It’s hard to move pianos into one place. It’s hard to find pieces written for many pianos.

But ah! such joy to play together! The full polyphonic sound of a piano orchestra!

[Note: this is my first blog post on an iPad!}

Introducing new piano solos

Anne Ku catalogues new piano solo works by living composers on Concertblog

As a sightreader, I am always looking for new challenges, that is, to play new music I have not seen before.  Before I entered the world of composers, I would search for published music of dead composers.

In my musical journey, I discover that the new music (of living composers) is just as interesting if not more. These days, if I come across music of a composer I like, whether it’s ensemble music or piano guitar duo, I’d ask if he or she had written anything for piano solo or piano duet. Similarly — vice versa.

Below is a catalogue of the piano solo works I have reviewed and introduced on Concertblog. I will continue to add to this list, arranged alphabetically by the composer’s last name.