Expanding Your Musical Horizons
Studying and learning a music instrument is a very enriching and rewarding experience, but what happens when you’re tired of learning the same ole, same ole material that you used to love? Its time to reinvent the wheel! What gave you (or your child) the desire and motivation to learn your instrument in the first place, may not be what becomes your musical forte; this is why some might say that learning music is a journey.
This month we are exploring different styles and genres of piano that you may want to try once you have mastered your basic piano skills.
If you’ve ever wanted to learn a pop song on the radio, it may surprise you to know that many of these songs are derived from classical pieces. It may be fun to learn the pop song and afterward its original classical version. Here’s a list of some pop songs over the past few decades that came from classical music:
- (1958) “Catch a Falling Star” by Lee Pockriss and Paul Vance – based on a theme from Brahms‘ Academic Festival Overture
- (1959) “Once Upon a Dream” in the Disney movie Sleeping Beauty – based upon a waltz in Tchaikovsky‘s ballet Sleeping Beauty.
- (1960) “It’s Now Or Never” by Elvis Presley – also based on ‘O Sole Mio.
- (1961) “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis Presley, based “Plaisir d’amour” (1784) by J.P.E. Martini
- (1967) “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procol Harum – (loosely) based on J.S. Bach‘s Orchestral Suite No. 3, Air (commonly known as Air on a G String) and Cantata 140 “Sleepers Awake”.
- (1969) “Bourée” by Jethro Tull (band), a progressive rock arrangement of Bourrée in E minor by Johann Sebastian Bach
- (1973) “American Tune” by Paul Simon — based on Johann Sebastian Bach‘s St. Matthew Passion.
- (1975) “All by Myself” by Eric Carmen – borrows heavily from Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor. Same year, Carmen’s “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again” borrows from the Adagio of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2
- (1979) Lady Lynda by Alan Jardine and Ron Altbach for The Beach Boys – based on Johann Sebastian Bach‘s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
- (1983) “This Night” by Billy Joel – uses Beethoven‘s Pathetique Sonata as the basis for the chorus
- (1986)”Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd-Webber based on Puccini‘s “La Fanciulla del West“
- (1994) Hook (song) by Blues Traveler. The chord progression is loosely based on Pachelbel’s Canon in D.
- (1996) “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis – chorus chord progression borrows from Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major.
- (1999) “Love of My Life” by Dave Matthews and Carlos Santana on the Supernatural album. Main theme is a nearly literal quotation of a theme in the 3rd symphony of Johannes Brahms, with some rhythmic changes.
- (2005) “Road to Joy” by Bright Eyes is based on the melody of Beethoven‘s Ode to Joy.
- (2007) “Grace Kelly” by Mika – Mika has admitted that he borrowed the main harmony from Figaro‘s famous aria Largo al factotum in the opera The Barber of Seville byGioachino Rossini.
- (2008) “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” by Weezer is a variation on “Simple Gifts” (one of the most famous arrangements is Appalachian Springs by Copland)
Stemming from a base in classical theory, there are also many different styles of playing that are fun to explore:
- Rock piano is a form of blues that took on a life on its own with louder and faster playing chords through slightly more complicated progressions. Rock blossomed out of the blues, but went a little further. To play either of these two types of music, you must be able to form simple chords on the piano, whether inverted or in root position.
- Jazz piano encompasses a gargantuan range of different technique and styles. Fusion jazz incorporates digital keyboards and electronic instruments, but jazz’s roots are in the blues. Many piano styles incorporate ideas burrowed from jazz, such as improvisation and an emphasis on extended chord forms.
- Cocktail piano is a style of piano that incorporates great technique into popular songs. You will hear show tunes or popular tunes played in a cocktail bar or lounge with lots of notes, runs, flourishes, and chord-extensions.
- Ragtime piano is also known as stride piano. The bass note and chords must be hit with the left hand, so stride pianists must have a great feel for the entire length of the keyboard. Ragtime uses syncopation in its melodies by placing melodic notes between the stressed beats of the rhythm. Ragtime is considered a style of jazz playing, although it emerged earlier than most jazz styles.
- Minimalism and new age piano involves less chord changes than other styles, instead relying on simple two-chord progressions and polychords. The modal jazz of John Coltrane began experimenting with simpler chord changes as it gave the improviser more freedom to express him/herself. Phillip Glass composed very long and repetitive pieces of music from a minimalist perspective.
- Traditional scared piano involves being able to read most four part harmonies and sometimes even figured bass reading. This style involves liturgical songs and hymns that can vary from simple two-note chords to incredibly complicated masses. These styles involve a strict reading of notation.
- Gospel piano playing is sort of an amalgamation between sacred playing, blues, and jazz. It has four part harmonies, but more freedom to play more notes, as long as “it sounds good.” Accompanying choirs is the most important job of a pianist in this setting, so the musician should be hitting harmonically palatable chords that help guide the singers in the right direction.
Stay tuned next month to learn more about different vocal styles…