This holiday season, I will be incorporating seasonal rote pieces with my students. Many holiday tunes are simple enough to teach by rote, but in this post I am going to focus on two of my students' favorites--both of which sound impressive and are non-Christmas specific, so they can be used with students of any age or denomination!
When I introduce these pieces, I write a simple guide in the student's assignment book to help them remember the patterns we learn by rote in the lesson. I find that just about any student can be successful with these two fun pieces.
Carol of the Bells
"Carol of the Bells," also known as the "Ukranian Bell Carol," is hands-down one of my students' most requested holiday songs. With its many repeated patterns, it is also a great candidate for rote teaching. Here is how to break it down:
- Start by introducing the RH pattern. I like to teach this piece in the key of A minor, so I have students play: C B-C A (long short-short long) Start on finger 3. This is a great finger exercise!
- Add the left hand. Starting with thumb on A, play one note with each RH pattern (holding each note for 3 beats).
- This is usually enough of the piece to satisfy beginning students. For more advanced students you have the option of including the "Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas" scale pattern, which uses the notes E-F#-G#-A-B-C-D-E-D-C (RH fingering: 1-2-3-1-2-3-4-5-4-3)
- Once students have mastered the notes, it is time to get creative! Try playing in different octaves to create the sound of high or low bells. Try different dynamics--this piece is especially effective using crescendo and diminuendo, which can be taught by rote. Have more advanced students experiment with using the pedal. Experiment with repeating the patterns of the piece in different ways to create a personalized arrangement. The options are endless!
The ubiquitous "Canon" by Johann Pachelbel is another extremely popular piece with my students. Although it is not specifically a holiday piece, it is performed quite often at the holidays. Students are always excited to learn that "Canon" is made up of just a few chords that repeat over and over. Here is how to break it down:
- Start by writing out the canon chords. I like to teach this piece to beginners in the key of C major, so I write:
(I draw an arrow between each chord to indicate which direction you move.)
- Have students play each chord in root position, using their right hand. I tell young students to use white keys only; with older students you can go into the theory of major vs. minor chords if you want.
- Next, have students play just the root of each chord with their left hand, starting with their thumb on C. Encourage students to use all of their fingers to play these notes, instead of moving their hand to play each one.
- Finally, we put both hands together by playing the root of the chord with the LH, followed by the broken root position chord with the RH. This creates a nice four beat pattern. For later beginners, this is a great piece to practice pedaling. Have students lift the damper pedal when the play each left hand note, and put the damper pedal down when the play the first note of each broken chord. Students love the sophisticated sound this creates.
- I find "Canon" to be really effective for younger students as a duet. I have students play the chord pattern as written above, as I play the various melodies from the "Canon" high on the piano. Older students might enjoy learning the melodic patterns, too, or experimenting with using inversions when playing the chords. Once again, you have lots of options to customize this for each student.
What do you think? Will you be teaching your students any rote holiday pieces this year? Please leave a comment below!