Piano Accompaniment

Something has surfaced in my teaching quite a bit recently, and this is the subject of training accompanists. Typically, an accompanist is a pianist because the bulk of repertoire is written with piano specific accompaniments, or piano reductions of orchestra accompaniments. With a very few exceptions, this is the case in classically styled sacred music, probably even more so than it is in classical music itself. Then, when we consider the average church, most of them use piano or a keyboard instrument, where other classical chamber groups or orchestras may be lacking. With this in view, it becomes tremendously important for a ministry-minded pianist to learn how to accompany others in all sorts of settings from all types of music, whether it is classical rep, or the more common improvised accompaniment out of a hymnbook, or a choral arrangement, or the accompaniment for another instrumentalist.

There are many things to consider as an accompanist, with the biggest being that the accompanist must support, not dominate. This was always a bit of a challenge for me to grasp when I was first learning, especially when I was handed accompaniment parts for particularly exciting violin solos or vocal pieces. Nevertheless, this is arguably the most important thing for an accompanist to realize, for it is not only crucial in and of itself, but also effects every other part of how they play.

Moving on to the more practical side of things, some quick helps for learning to accompany are:

Count. A no-brainer? Maybe, but while most beginners are continually being hammered with repetitions of “1 2 3 4,” “1+2+3+4+,” “trip-l-et, trip-l-et, trip-l-et,” or the more appealing “straw-ber-ry, straw-ber-ry, straw-ber-ry” or some other such form of counting, more advanced musicians somehow loose track of this most important technique. Find the quarter beat (or other main beat) and stick with it. Tap your foot, nod your head, do anything to keep on track with the person you are accompanying.

Analyze. As the supporting musician, you have a very unique role. The music written to enhance the soloist is usually full of embellishments and ideas that duplicate those found in the solo or choral parts, but are often woven in so as not to draw direct attention. When preparing to accompany, spend some time with the score, and look to see how the accompaniment part and the solo part work together. Look for patterns that repeat between the parts, contrasting note values (maybe the solo has sixteenth notes and the piano is supporting by playing quarters or eighths), parallel vs. contrasting registers, etc. The more you know about what the other person is doing and how it relates to what you are doing, the better your prepared accompaniment will sound.

Listen. (A)  If you can find a recording of the piece you are to accompany, spend some time and listen to it. If your part is a piano reduction or a piece that has had orchestrations added to it, listen for what orchestral instruments are used to enhance the mood and musicality of the piece in its full edition. Envisioning a tuba or a piccolo will make a difference in how you approach relating portions of the work.

Listen. (B) When practicing with the one whom you are to accompany, develop the habit of listening to them, rather than to yourself. This takes work and sometimes a little mind-over-matter technique, but is well worth the effort.

Practice. Here again, this may seem like a no-brainer. You may be surprised, however, by the difference there can be between only ever playing with the soloist and taking time to study your own part between rehearsals.

 

Here are some of our favorite books for young string soloists, with each arrangement including a beautiful piano accompaniment. These make excellent practice for church pianists in training!

Cover tiny file look inside Come, Christians, Join to Sing Composed by Kristin Campbell. SoundForth #228841. Published by SoundForth (S2.228841).
Cover tiny file look inside Worship the King Easy Hymn Settings for Solo Violin and Piano. Composed by Kristin Campbell. Score and performance/accompaniment CD. Lorenz Publishing Company #30/2600L. Published by Lorenz Publishing Company (LO.30-2600L).

 

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NEW Releases | Music for Children

We are excited to release several new titles in the line of sacred songs for children. All of these songs work well with families and children’s choirs, and emphasize specific Scripture verses and/or principles in fun and memorable ways.

Until January 31, you can purchase any 2 of the children’s songs and receive a third one FREE when you apply the coupon code childrens-song3for4 at checkout. Stop by the Vocal Sheet Music page to browse our Children’s Song titles.

NEW Release | And Can It Be for String Quartet

We’re excited to make available a fresh string setting for the timeless hymn, “And Can It Be?” In a rousing and triumphant rendition, string quartets can marvel at and rejoice in the matchless love of our God. For ease of coordination, there is an optional third violin part that can double the viola or serve as a substitute when violists are scarce! 

Visit our online store to preview the complete score and to purchase.

Merry Christmas!

The Christmas story is well known to many of us, but I’m reminded again this year of how infinite our God is, and so merciful, to bring fresh truths to our attention from history that we know so well.

Our pastor was reading the Christmas story from Luke 2 last week. It’s easy to breeze through a familiar passage and think, “Yes, I know what happens in this story.” But try to read it as if you’ve never heard it before. No matter how many times you’ve heard and read the same Bible verse, our infinite Lord can still speak new truths and timely encouragements to our finite minds.

Such was the case last week.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

“Fear not” is a command that needs to be heeded on a daily basis, for our feeble selves often become burdened and worried, even in the littlest details of daily life.

But what really jumped out in a new way to me, was the adjectives in verse 10. “Good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” The news of Jesus’ birth is not just news (we hear plenty of news on a daily basis), but this is good news. This is news that gives hope; it brings peace to those who believe. It fills hearts with joy, and not just some joy, but with great joy. Joy that is beyond words. Joy that is contagious. Joy that is independent of troublesome circumstances because it is founded upon the character and love of an unchanging Savior. 

Sometimes, though, “good news” for one person has little or no effect on other people, and very little news spreads it’s touch to the entire world. But the impact of Christ coming to earth touches everyone, and it’s good news of redemption for all people

So in this Christmas season, may we all come to adore and love more the Christ of Christmas, Who came to earth to bring good tidings of great joy for all people!

Happy Thanksgiving!

In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

As we are all gathering with those we love, may our hearts swell with gratitude and praise to the Lord for his never failing faithfulness and everlasting love. This is what Thanksgiving is all about. 

Thankfulness: Gratitude to God for what He does.
Praise: Gratitude to God for Who He Is.

Admit it. Beneath the comfort of smiling faces, warm hugs, delectable smells, and cozy coffee cups swarming around plates of pumpkin pie, are hearts with needs. In some cases, hearts that are aching badly with hurts and pain unseen and unknown. The flip side of the rejoicing we are enjoying is still there and is, in some cases, very dark. 

But there is a Light that can pierce through the most difficult situation, warming and illuminating the darkest, coldest heart, resulting in growth and eventually, fruit.

This Light is Jesus. He is Emmanuel. God with us. God with us. God with us.

We have so much to be grateful for. Yes, family, friends, food, warm houses, soft lights, soothing atmospheres, sweet relationships, are all gifts for which we ought to return thanks to our Lord everyday. But there’s more, so much more that we are prone to overlook in the dazzling delights of temporal pleasures. 

We who have trusted in Christ as our Savior are assured a perfect standing before the God of Heaven (Romans 8:1). If this were not enough, when we come to the Father in Jesus’ Name, we receive the spirit of adoption whereby we cry “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). He is Christ’s Father, and our Father, Christ’s God, and our God (John 20:17). There are unspeakable gifts laid up in store for those who love God (1 Corinthians 2:9). For those who are faithful unto death in the midst of crisis, persecution, or even just “ordinary” trials, are reserved crowns of life (Revelation 2:10, James 1:12). Time would fail us to speak of grace sufficient for every need (2 Corinthians 12:9), guaranteed rewards for perseverance (Galatians 6:9), comforts found only in the never-ending presence of God (Hebrews 13:5), life and peace that comes from spiritual-mindedness (Romans 8:6), the assurance that those who ask, will receive (Matthew 7:8), the truth that all of God’s promises are true (2 Corinthians 1:20), and the list could go on for pages. These are things God does for us through Christ. Let us now consider some of who God Is. 

He is, first of all, the I AM God (Exodus 3:14). He is our Shepherd (Psalm 23, John 10:11). He is our Sun and Shield (Psalm 84:11). He is our Strength (Psalm 28:8). He is our Song (Exodus 15:2). He is our Father (Galatians 4:6). He is our Blesser (Ephesians 1:3). He is our Director (Proverbs 16:9). He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). He is our Refuge (Psalm 9:9). He is our Fortress (Psalm 91:2). He is the Creator (Genesis 1:1). He is the Alpha and Omega (Revelation 22:13). Here again, the list is endless, for God is infinite (Psalm 145:3).

It doesn’t matter where you find yourself this holiday season, whether on the mountain tops of rejoicing or struggling to keep the tears from spilling over into the mashed potatoes you are about to serve: God is enough for your need. He makes all the riches of glory available to you through Christ (Ephesians 1:3), and whoever comes to Christ will in no wise be cast out (John 6:37).

This Thanksgiving, let us all focus our hearts to seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1). We have so much for which to be grateful. May we raise continually a voice of Thanksgiving for what God has done for us, and a voice of Praise for Who God Is. 

Praise ye the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul.
While I live will I praise the LORD: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being.
Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.
His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.
Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God:
Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever:
Which executeth judgement for the oppressed: which giveth food to the hungry. The LORD looseth the prisoners:
The LORD openeth the eyes of the blind: the LORD raiseth them that are bowed down: the LORD loveth the righteous:
The LORD preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and wido: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.
The LORD shall reign for ever, even thy God, O Zion, unto all generations. Praise ye the LORD.

~Psalm 146 

NEW Children’s Carol | A Child at Christmas Time

The Christmas season is just around the corner. If you are like us, then you are busily preparing this year’s special music for church events, nursing home ministries, and more. It is special to bring everyone together to sing at Christmas time. What would Christmas be without the sound of children’s voices ringing through our lives? If you have a group of children you are working to prepare for the Christmas season of music ministry, then you will want to check out this new, gentle carol written just for children and that touches the hearts of young and old alike. We are excited to announce the release of A Child at Christmas Time. It is simply set for children’s choir and features an optional child’s solo, as well as optional obbligatos for viola and cello.

Click here to preview and purchase the digital sheet music.

Massive Holiday Sale on Confederate Candles

We are excited to be running our biggest sale ever on Confederate Candles. The future of Confederate Candles by The Neely Team holds great change for the company, and we need your help to clear out our inventory. Don’t worry – our superior quality candles will remain the same on the inside, but the outside…. well, wait and see.

To give you the best deal ever from now until January 5, 2019, we have three special offers for different quantities of candles. Keep reading!

Buy 1 candle and receive 30% off

Buy 5 or more candles and receive 40% off

Buy 12 or more candles and receive 50% off

Stop by the candle shop to browse the fragrance options. We look forward to seeing you there!

 

Click on the applicable coupon at checkout to redeem these offers.

 

Teaching Metronome Use {in a nutshell}

Using the metronome is a relieving way to make sure that all rhythmic values are placed exactly as they ought to be in their interlocking system. But often we as teachers assume that students know how to use a metronome effectively in their practice, when in reality, they do not understand at all.

There is (almost) nothing that can raise a teacher’s blood pressure faster than having the metronome turned on and the student not staying with it. And it’s not just frustrating for the teacher (I was a student once…).

Teaching students to use a metronome is one of the most rewarding elements of practice to pass on. I like to start them with it early in a lot of cases, and always simply. Scales are an excellent tool for teaching metronome use. Teach your student a basic one octave C scale with just one hand (two hands for students who can handle it –but we’re taking the most basic approach possible). After they are comfortable and confident with the fingerings and notes of the scale, then have them play with the metronome, giving one note per click. 60 BPM is a good speed usually, but if it’s too fast, slow it down. The goal is to have each note played exactly with the click.

Eventually, you can teach the fingerings for a two octave scale, and then add the metronome to that. Now the student will be playing eighth notes and will have two notes per click. Ideally, the metronome will be on your original speed but again, slow it down if necessary.

The ultimate goal with rhythmic attention is to internalize rhythm so that it can be “felt.” Often, the best way to internalize something is to externalize it first. Encourage your student to nod their head with each metronome click. Foot tapping is another way to externalize, or counting out loud. Vocalizing a non-word syllable (da-da-da or something else) is also helpful. Do not encourage externalizing by extra hand motion such as bouncing the wrists, as this distracts from hand and arm technique and is not useful in the long run, and could also cause unnecessary tension.

There are many variations to this sort of practice work, so be creative and tailor these ideas to meet your and your student’s needs. Also, it usually isn’t imperative that a student master metronome work or perfect rhythm in all of their current music at one time. It’s a process, so set reasonable goals that can be achieved relatively easily.

 

From one of our favorite series for beginners who desire to play in church: check out Keyboard Treasury Vol. 2! This series is excellent, reinforcing technique and developing a taste for artistically arranged sacred music.

Cover tiny file look inside Keyboard Treasury, Vol. 2 A Graded Hymn Anthology elementary piano solos. Composed by Peter Davis. Sacred. SoundForth #110221. Published by SoundForth (S2.110221).

 

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Teacher’s Resource | Masterwork Practice & Performance

Many times through the course of my years teaching, I have had questions such as:

  • How picky should I be?
  • How many weeks on one piece is too long?
  • Should I expect my beginners to play their pieces to the same degree of perfection as that of an intermediate or advanced student?
  • If I only have time to work on a few techniques or ideas during the lesson, on what should I spend the time and how do I prioritize the material so as to evenly develop their skills?

While there are no perfect answers to these questions, there are tools we can employ to help us find case-by-case solutions. There are solutions to the innumerable student weaknesses a teacher encounters in a week, and some of them can be mind-boggling, especially for young teachers.

Of course, the goal is to be adept at seeing a problem, identifying where exactly it lies, and having ten different perfect solutions lying ready at your fingertips. But you really need this built-in resource long before it will have had time to accumulate from experience. So what is a young teacher to do? Or maybe you have much experience teaching, but have a hard time keeping up each student’s individual needs and weekly progress. (If you have more than 5 students, this is very likely!)

I recently came across this sister-resource to the Masterwork Classics series by Jane Magrath. The Practice & Performance series boasts “A student practice guide that accompanies the Masterwork Classics. Invaluable notes on technique, style and listening activities for every piece in the Masterwork Classics books, plus teacher’s notes and short lesson guides for each piece.”

These are designed to be used as a consumable practice guide with each student having their own, but I have found that owning my own copy instead works well. I can then study up on what they are going to be working on, and be better prepared to teach the material aurally. This way, I am able to break the information down and customize it to each student’s strengths and weaknesses. Also, it removes the need to hand a young student a relatively deep practice-guide that they may have a difficult time understanding and applying on their own.

 

Cover tiny file look inside Masterwork Practice & Performance, Level 1-2 Edited by Jane Magrath. Graded Standard Repertoire; Masterworks; Piano Collection. Masterwork Practice & Performance. Masterwork. Book. 64 pages. Alfred Music #00-6582. Published by Alfred Music (AP.6582).
Cover tiny file look inside Masterwork Practice & Performance Level 3. Edited by Jane Magrath. Graded Standard Repertoire; Masterworks; Piano Collection. Masterwork Practice & Performance. Masterwork. Book. 88 pages. Alfred Music #00-167. Published by Alfred Music (AP.167).
Cover tiny file look inside Masterwork Practice & Performance, Level 4 Edited by Jane Magrath. Graded Standard Repertoire; Masterworks; Piano Collection. Masterwork Practice & Performance. Masterwork. Book. 80 pages. Alfred Music #00-169. Published by Alfred Music (AP.169).

 

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