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Reading Chord Symbols: A Pianist’s Guide

The piano is a “harmony” instrument, meaning that we can play many notes at once. Certain combinations of notes give us harmonies that we call chords, and the ability to play chords is an important skill, no matter what style of music you’re playing. One of the most efficient routes to knowing which chords to play is by having the ability to read chord symbols. In this article, we’re going to teach you how to read chart-style chord symbols. Along the way we’re going to reinforce our understanding of what chords are and how they’re built. As a bonus, we … Read more

How to Memorize Music: A Pianist’s Guide

Introduction Have you ever watched a great pianist perform a complicated piece from memory? Impressive, isn’t it? All those notes and details, perfectly remembered and then fantastically re-created in the moment. There’s something about a performance of memorized music that makes it feel somehow more authentic, more intimate and honest. To be sure, this is a subjective perception, as many of the greatest performers used sheet music when playing, but the appeal of a memorized performance certainly exists. The practice of memorizing music is different from the more standard modes of practice to learn music off the page. In some … Read more

6 Excellent Practicing Strategies Commonly Missed by Pianists

Introduction Why do we practice music? Your answer may be something to the effect of, “well, we practice so that we can play the music,” which is pretty much correct, but can be stated a little more succinctly: whether you’re planning to play in front of a blowout crowd at Carnegie Hall, a modest gathering of friends and family at a holiday gathering, or simply for yourself in the privacy of your own home, the goal is the same, we practice to perform.  Ok, but what exactly is practicing? Or, more importantly, how do we practice? What are we supposed … Read more

Getting Started with Bach – 6 Key Pieces for Beginner Pianists

Getting Started with Bach Few composers from history inspire awe and veneration quite like Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750). The ability to play Bach is a goal aspired to by players the world over. However, Bach’s work provides a unique challenge for budding keyboardists, due in large part to its use of a stylistic mode of compositional design known as counterpoint. A predominant feature of music during the historical period known as the Baroque Era (1600–1750), counterpoint treats each ‘line’ of music as an independent melody. The goal of the contrapuntal composer is to weave together multiple lines to create a … Read more

Romeo and Juliet in Classical Music: Prokofiev’s Ballet in Four Acts (1936)

Sergei Prokofiev’s rendition of the love story is a ballet, performed by an orchestra and dancers. The history and first performances of the work connect music to its context, in this case the ideology and state control. Born in 1891, Sergei Prokofiev moved to the United States in 1918 and then Germany and France. He started visiting the Soviet Union in 1927, 1929, and 1932. In 1932 he rented a flat in Moscow but still main resided in Paris. In the summer of 1936 he moved back to the Soviet Union with his wife and two sons. Romeo and Juliet … Read more

Romeo and Juliet in Classical Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet was a fantasy-overture, as the composer himself called it. It was first completed and premiered in 1870. The lukewarm reception made Tchaikovsky take up the suggestions of Balakirev, who suggested the composition and revise the work. The second version was premiered in 1872 and published in Germany. Balakirev, however, was not satisfied with the version, and Tchaikovsky continued to revise it. In 1880, the version that became what we know today was finished, but it was not until 1886 when this final version was premiered. Similar to Berlioz’s use of motives, Tchaikovsky used themes to symbolize … Read more

Romeo and Juliet in Classical Music: Hector Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette

Valentine’s Day is coming. What is your favorite love story? While not necessarily the most memorable one, Romeo and Juliet is definitely one of the most well-known love stories. The story itself originated from an Italian tale, and many literary versions appeared in the sixteenth century, among which was Shakespeare’s tragedy. The story has been adapted by novels, movies, and musical works. In this article, we’ll take a look at three musical works based on Romeo and Juliet by Hector Berlioz, Sergei Prokofiev, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, as listed in the table below. Table 1: Dates, Genres, Instrumentations, Movements, and … Read more

Top 5 Classical Music Attractions in Berlin, Germany

The founding of Germany’s capital city dates back to the 13th century. Surrounded by significant landmarks that remind you of the city’s turbulent history, including the Holocaust and the fall of the Berlin Wall, you’ll also find classical music treasures waiting to be discovered in this beautiful city. These five musical attractions are not to be missed in Berlin. If you are a classical music fan, scroll down and watch our video for some highlights.   1. Komische Oper Berlin Built between 1891 and 1892, the Komische Oper Berlin theatre was used primarily for operetta, a light form of opera, … Read more

Mahler’s Piano Quartet in A Minor (c. 1876)

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) was known as a conductor when he was alive, and his music slowly became popular since his death. His ten symphonies and some songs are probably his most well-known output, but today we want to talk about the earliest authenticated work that had survived. The authorship of the work is, however, not without debate. Mahler’s Piano Quartet was possibly composed in 1876, when he was 16 and a student at the Vienna Conservatory. The first movement (Nicht zu schnell, not too fast) in A Minor and 24 measures of Scherzo in G minor survived. This is also … Read more

Bach’s Coffee Cantata

Do you love coffee? Have you had your coffee this morning? Do you know, in 1734, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a cantata about the temptation and power of coffee? You might know that Bach wrote a lot of sacred cantatas to be used in church services; his Leipzig years (1723-1750) were especially a prolific time for sacred cantatas. In Leipzig Bach was responsible for the musical training of the boys choir at Thomasschule and oversaw music at four main churches of Leipzig–the Thomaskirche, the Nikolaikirche, the Matthäeikirche (or Neukirche) and the Petrikirche. There he wrote five cycles of cantatas for … Read more