May: Modern Era of Music

Well, here we are at the final Era of music that we will study together this Trimester – the Modern Era. I hope you all have enjoyed experiencing music from different times of history: from the very, very long ago to the not-so-long-ago.

The Modern Era is generally considered to run from 1900 to the present. Composers were even more interested in finding new sounds than in the previous eras. Composers also experimented in using instruments in non-traditional ways, such as plucking at the strings of the piano, tapping on the bodies of instruments, and using non-musical objects to create music (see the John Cage video in my Modern Era YouTube playlist where sheets of metal are used as part of his composition).

Sometimes Modern music sounds “funny” to us, or like it doesn’t make sense. That’s because composers were also experimenting with different ways to use harmonies and the tones in a scale (or in the case of bitonality, writing a piece of music that is played in two different keys at once!).

Jazz played a major role in the development of Modern music, as we will see in this month’s composer study of Scott Joplin.

By the mid 1850s, the piano had also developed into the instrument that we all know today – with 88 keys and three pedals – the damper pedal on the right, the una corda (soft) pedal on the left, and the sostenuto pedal in the middle. Electric keyboards and digital pianos also began to be developed in the 1950s. These instruments can be more portable and do not need tuned, but they also have a different feel as acoustic pianos and do not produce the same tonal variations.

Inside of Steinway grand piano

Inside of a modern Steinway grand piano

Here is the overview document of our May Modern Era study, as well as a link to my Modern Era YouTube playlist. Let me know what you think – some forms of Modern music can take some getting used to!

April: Romantic Era of Music

I told a young student the other evening that because we were studying the “Romantic Era” of music in April, we would need to be all huggy and lovey-dovey to each other all month long. He looked at me like I had suddenly grown a second head. I explained that I was kidding, because “Romantic Era” doesn’t really mean the same as “romantic” in the sense of expressing affection to others. I could see the relief spread over his face, although there was still some doubt as to whether I might still be kinda sorta for real about the hugging and the loving…  🙂

On a serious note, outside of the Classical Era, the Romantic Era (1820 – 1900) probably yielded the most composers with whom people are generally familiar. Even if folks can’t identify the composer who wrote a specific piece of music, the tune is at least something that sounds familiar. The Romantic Era also produced such prolific composers such as Chopin and Schubert. Music definitely began to evolve into something that was more for the enjoyment of others. Many forms of music that were seen as preludes to other larger works during the Classical Era became stand-alone works during the Romantic Era.

I have a April Romantic Era Overview document that describes what we are working on in April – each of you should have received that at your first lesson in April. Also, as with previous months, I have a Romantic Era playlist on YouTube that you should check out if you have a chance. A student remarked to me that there was a selection on the playlist that was over 30 minutes long – when was she going to be able to watch that entire video? My suggestion regarding the playlist is to have it on as background music (classical music is great to listen to when you are doing homework!), or during meals or while you are working on your lap book. Unless I specifically mention to you during lessons that watching the video is recommended, it is alright to just listen to the music.

Romantic Era YouTube Playlist

Romantic Era YouTube Playlist

Enjoy the Romantic selections this month, and remember – Recital time is coming so keep up the great practice times you have been logging so far this trimester! 🙂

Chopin the Showman

The title of today’s blog post has an informative as well as a practical purpose. Firstly, Frédéric Chopin was a showman, performing numerous recitals everywhere from big music halls (such as La Salle Pleyel in Paris) to small, private salons belonging to friends and other members of the wealthy class. Secondly, the title helps us remember how to pronounce Chopin’s name, which despite how it’s spelled, is pronounced “shō-pan'”. See how it kind of sounds like “showman”? (Maybe??)

Anyways, in April the Studio will study Chopin, who was an extremely productive composer. He wrote many beautiful pieces of music that are representative of the Romantic Era of music in which he lived, from etudes (exercises to practice specific techniques) to mazurkas (Polish folk dances). Chopin really believed in playing the piano with great mastery of technique, and many of his pieces are considered advanced and very advanced in difficulty. Even pieces that initially seem very easy to read are soon revealed to be quite difficult to play well. Piano students usually do not learn pieces by Chopin until later in their piano studies.

As with our previous composer studies, we have a Chopin lap book this month, courtesy of Color in My Piano ( Here are pictures of the finished product to help guide you through the assembly of this lap book this month.

Cover of lap book!

Cover of lap book!

Inside of lap book!

Inside of lap book!

Remember to take a look at the sample music that you place into the large pocket on the right-hand side of your lap book. See if you can figure out any of the notes on the piano!

Don’t forget to listen to my Romantic Era YouTube Playlist. There are several selections from Chopin in this month’s list, along with other pieces from the Romantic Era that I have chosen to share with you. Let me know if you have favorites!