Christmas Music Teachable Moments
We’re less than 7 weeks away from Christmas, and if your studio is anything like mine, the sounds of Christmas carols are twirling through the air. This year, I’m very happy to say that in addition to the standard arrangements of your traditional Christmas songs, we’ve also been hearing a lot of exciting “twisted” arrangements.
Over the past three weeks, several students of mine have been working on the Christmas carol remakes by Daniel McFarlane of Supersonics Piano. This year he’s released 6 unique arrangements of popular tunes such as Jingle Bells, Silent Night, Deck the Halls, and Carol of the Bells. The pieces range from Grade 3 (Intermediate) to Grade 7 (Advanced), and each piece includes multiple “teachable moments.”
What’s a teachable moment, you ask?
A Teachable Moment is when a student comes across something that they might not have seen or experienced before. Method books thrive on teachable moments as they introduce new time signatures, key signatures, or articulations. My favorite teachable moments, however, are most often generated by the “fun stuff” that you get to do outside of method books.
(And don’t get me wrong — pieces in method books can be exciting. Still, most teachers will confess that students have a tendency to pay closer attention to the “fun stuff,” which is why super sneaky piano teachers look for awesome arrangements of songs that their students will absolutely love to play. It’s always a win-win!)
When a student sees something in a piece and says…
What does THAT mean?
Woah! That’s different.
… you know you have a teaching moment close at hand!
Here’s a list of a few teachable moments I found in Daniel’s Christmas pieces:
Every time I introduced these two pieces to a student, the major-turned-minor melodies induced smiles and laughter. Therein lies the Teachable Moment: Listen to what happens when we take a very familiar melody and turn it on its head by putting it into the minor mode.
(Want to draw out that teachable moment? Hand your students a few lines of a familiar Christmas tune and have them transpose it into a minor key during the lesson. This only takes a few minutes, and it’s a great ear training and theory exercise.)
Take a listen for yourself:
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Listen carefully at 0:25 and 0:37 in Dashing Through the Snow — these were the “smile/giggle” points for my students.
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The chromatic run at 0:15 and the driving bass line that follows in Not So Silent Night make this piece particularly interesting.
The title alone is worthy of a smile. This is the easiest level of the new 2014 Supersonics Christmas tunes, but don’t let the level fool you – it’s full of fun tricks for students to practice and will definitely impress any audience!
Teachable Moments: There are several in this piece. 1) The bass line starting in mm. 9 is a great opportunity to talk about “playing through the bar line,” 2) the hand crosses starting in mm. 63 help develop cross-hand coordination with a tricky rhythm, and 3) the starred option in mm. 93-94 encourages students to improvise by transposing the opening melody of “Deck the Halls” into different keys for as long as they like.
Here’s the excerpt of my favorite part of this piece. Listen for it at 1:02 in the recording below.
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This might be my personal favorite. “Ring the Bells” is Daniel’s other take on “Dashing Through the Snow,” but this time with a joyous and celebratory tone. The opening of the piece sets the precedent for constantly shifting time signatures and hemiolas, something which resulted in several interesting conversations in my studio!
The Teachable Moment here is all about the use of time signatures. It’s not often that students are confronted with two time signatures in a single measure. The song opens with an alternation between 5/8 and 2/4, and then quickly follows with 6/8 and 3/4.
Listen for the quick shifts in the recording below – and don’t blame me if you get this one stuck in your head! Ring the Bells is going to be a new standard in my Christmas repertoire this year.
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Supersonics Piano is the brainchild of Daniel McFarlane, a piano teacher and composer from Brisbane, Australia. Daniel started his teaching career in 1997, and has been writing original compositions for the past 8 years. His collections range from elementary to late intermediate, so there’s something for almost everyone in your studio.
November Special: Buy Two Get One Free
I’ve had several requests for winter and holiday themed assignment sheets to follow-up the Fall Assignment Sheets. I’ll be working on those today and tomorrow! If you have any specific designs in mind, please comment below and I will try to accommodate them.
The blog has been a bit quiet lately — my husband and I are in the process of renovating and moving, and I haven’t had much time for anything else! Posts should pick up once we’re settled into our new home. Thanks for your patience!
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