Soup Group Pieces

We have been video recording everything we play at Soup Group. The end goal is to have a video performance of all the pieces that Howard and Karen have written. So here are two more in the series:

Karen played Albert the Pirate Captain – from her book In a Minor Mood. Here’s a LINK to the print music book. Here’s the video on YouTube.


Howard played Blue Mood from his book Powerful Fantasies. Here’s a LINK to the print music book. Here’s the video on YouTube.

Til next time,


Dragon Tails

Yesterday we had one of our two monthly piano groups, this one hosted by Colin Dunn. There were about a dozen players there and we had a great time! Howard played Karen’s original composition, Dragon Tails from her book, Enchanted Journey. Here’s a video of it.
And here’s a link to purchase the book if you liked it (smile).
Till next time,


Skills a Piano Player Should Have

On the February 9th post titled Performing Monkeys, I ended the post saying that we taught with the basic idea of creating piano players for life and building their skills. I promised a better list of basic skills every piano player should have. Well, Howard and I have been kicking that idea around a lot for the past two weeks and I finally have the list. So here goes, piano players…..

General Skills

  1. Read music fluently. That is, not be able to “figure it out”, but actually to read it like reading a book.
  2. Learn and perform a piece by memory.
  3. Have the knowledge and technique to play the scales and chords of each key.
  4. Know the five standard chord progressions: Basic Harmony, Substitute Chords, Scale Chords, Circle of Fifths, and Chromatic Chords.
  5. Know the standard musical forms such as Song Form, Sonata Form, and Rondo Form.
  6. Play by ear – picking out a melody and choosing appropriate accompaniment chords.
  7. Sort out the melody from the accompaniment and balance the hands to display that.
  8. Be able to play to a steady drum-beat or metronome.
  9. Transpose a piece various keys.
  10. Maintain a repertoire of performable music.

Classical Skills

Learn and play from written music of the following eras:

  • Baroque
  • Classical
  • Romantic
  • 20th Century


Fake Book and Improvisation Skills. Use a fake book or lead sheet to:

  • Perform a piece using left hand solid chords.
  • Perform a piece using various left hand patterns.
  • Create and perform an arrangement of a piece using various left hands and right hand embelishments.
  • Improvise a piece from a fake book using various left hands/right hands/ and embelishments on the fly.


Modern Popular and Jazz Music Skills

  • Improvise on 12-bar blues
  • Learn and perform a modern popular piece with modern pop or Latin rhythms.


Sight Reading Skills

  • Count the rhythms at sight while playing.
  • Sight-read modern rhythms in popular music.
  • Recognize the chords at sight including different inversions and voicing of the chords.


Ensemble Playing Skills

  • Be able to play along with another person.
  • Know how to accompany another musician or singer.
  • Play chords within a band or ensemble.


This is the current list of what we think is most important for a good all-around piano player. If you have other additions, we would love to hear your ideas. Please leave a comment.

Til next time,


Producing Music

One of our students asked this question. “What is the difference between music programming, arranging, and composing. Some of my friends say they are music programmers. I don’t understand.”

So here’s the scoop, music lovers!

Music Programming is a form of music production and performance using electronic devices such as sequencers to generate music. Programming is used in nearly all forms of electronic music and in most hip hop music since the 1990s. It usually consists of “sounds” rather than melodies and chords. It is usually created using computer programming software.

Arranging is where you take a song someone else has written and create an arrangement of it by altering the rhythm patterns, using different left hands, changing some of the harmony (perhaps) or just creating a longer version by doing more repeats and each repeat is different. This is NOT improvising because once you have the pattern set it is produced in sheet music form for other people to play your arrangement. It is the same every time.

Composing is where you start from scratch – Your Melody, Your Harmony, Your lyrics (if you have them). You make up a song, turn it into sheet music so that other people can play it. (Some of them might even make an “arrangement” of your song if it’s popular enough.)

Til Next Time,


Tin Pan Alley

Reprinted from

Today’s selection — from The B Side by Ben Yagoda. In the 1800s, popular America songs had seemingly endless verses and choruses. But with the introduction of 78-rpm records on 1902, all that changed. The legendary practitioners of this new, shortened form of songwriting were such luminaries as Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Arthur Schwartz, Harold Arlen, and Vernon Duke. This industry of composers was centered around West 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, and both the location and industry came to be referred to as “Tin Pan Alley.” The origins of the name “Tin Pan Alley” are unclear, but it is generally believed to be a reference to the percussive sound of many pianos used in that era.

“Early-twentieth-century changes in the way music was delivered generally disadvantaged publishers, favored the songwriters (or at least the best songwriters), and led to creative innovations. The first such change was the 78-rpm wax record, introduced in 1902. The technology had not matured very much by 1909, so when the Copyright Act of that year specified that copyright applied to ‘mechanical’ reproductions of a musical work, what it had in mind were piano rolls. Nonetheless, the act applied to records as well, and Congress established a system whereby publishers received two cents for each recording or player piano roll. The Victor Talking Machine Company dominated the manufacture of both phonographs and records. The number of records it sold increased by an average of 20 percent each year from 1902 to 1923, from 1.7 million to 40.5 million. A milestone could be glimpsed in two 1920 hit songs (‘Whispering’ and ‘The Japanese Sandman’), which sold two million records each. By 1929, more than 105 million records and 750,000 phonographs were manufactured in the United States, together valued at $100 million.
Irving Berlin

“The Alley had to make one compositional accommodation to the 78. Disks ran four minutes or less, so the old-fashioned song with endless verses and choruses was now out of the question. The slimming down was salutary. The jazz bandleader Paul Whiteman observed in 1926, ‘Previous to 1897 every song had to have six or seven verses and each verse had six or seven lines. Now there are two verses of a scant four lines each, and even at that, the second verse counts scarcely at all. The whole story must be told in the very first verse and chorus and usually there is very little to it anyway, the music being what matters.’

“Presently the verse itself disappeared, or at most retained a vestigial presence, often skipped in recordings or performance. The meat of a typical standard song, it became understood, was four sections of eight bars each, most commonly in AABA form, with the B section, known as the bridge or release, sometimes modulating to another key. As Charles Hamm observed, ‘The skill and genius of Tin Pan Alley composers (and lyricists) was revealed by what could be done within a tightly constricted formal structure, rather than by flights of fancy soaring to new and complex designs. One is reminded of similar restrictions embraced by writers of sonnets, by the Japanese poets of haiku verse, and by the great American bluesmen.’

“A characteristic example is Cole Porter’s ‘I Get a Kick out of You,’ from the 1934 show Anything Goes, which is simple in structure yet, in its way, perfect.

My story is much too sad to be told,
But practically everything leaves me totally cold.
The only exception I know is the case

When I’m out on a quiet spree,
Fighting vainly the old ennui,
And I suddenly turn and see your fabulous face.

Chorus (A):
I get no kick from champagne.
Mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all.
So tell me why should it be true
That I get a kick out of you?

Some, they may go for cocaine.
I’m sure that if I took even one sniff
It would bore me terrifically, too.
Yet I get a kick out of you.

Bridge (B):
I get a kick every time I see
You standing there before me.
I get a kick though it’s clear to see
You obviously do not adore me.

I get no kick in a plane.
Flying too high with some guy in the sky
Is my idea of nothing to do.
Yet I get a kick out of you.

“At the upper end of royalties, songwriters got two cents per piece of sheet music sold (three for Broadway show writers) and up to one-third of the publisher’s cut of a recording. By the end of the decade, a hit could earn writers $5,000 to $10,000. But only the most consistently successful of them, such as Berlin (who was savvy enough to start his own publishing house), Walter Donaldson, and Gus Kahn, could expect to earn as much as $150,000 in a very good year.”

Performing Monkeys

A friend recently sent me a link to a video on YouTube of a group of piano students a teacher was using to demonstrate his “school” of music teaching. It got me thinking about the many links friends and students have shared with me showing some prodigy or another being trotted around on the TV shows. They always say something like “he’s another Mozart” or “she’s only had 8 months of lessons”. I mentally think of that situation as a “performing monkey.” Someone wants to show them off and bask in the reflected glory. Not to discourage the player and their love of music, but in nearly all the cases there’s a bit of questionable history involved.

For example, one little boy who was 6 or so was performing and we were told that “he could play anything he heard” after just hearing it one time. So they demonstrated with a bit of a Mozart Sonata. They played about a minute of it and then he sat at the piano and he played the theme of the piece, about an 8 bar section, but he did not duplicate what he had heard, just memorized the melody and filled in some correct harmony. Now that’s not bad, but it didn’t make him “another Mozart”. We also learned that although he hadn’t had any formal piano lessons, his mother was a pianist and played with him every day at the piano. HHHHMMMMM?

Back to the latest link my friend sent me. He was very impressed by one young man of about 12 or so who had “only had 10 months” of piano lessons. He sat down at the piano and played a very virtuosic piece – very fast, very flashy, complete with big arm movements and showmanship. Everyone clapped and thought he was wonderful. He did play well. The part we don’t know is in the “10 months” of piano lessons did he work with a teacher ½ hour a week, an hour a week, or 3 hours a day, every day. We just don’t know that. And we don’t know that he could play ANY other piece of music besides that one piece.

I had a similar experience when I began teaching and went to my first Music Teacher’s State Conference. I walked into a room where a series of 6 year olds performed wonderful classical music, flawlessly. I was intimidated and wondering what I was doing being a teacher because I couldn’t play all those pieces like that. I later learned that they were Suzuki students and had been taught each note by rote. All the students played exactly the same pieces in the first year, and they were all “helped” by putting their hands on the correct notes one at a time to learn the pieces.

I remember a piano mover one time who moved my piano and then sat down and played Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag – beautifully! Fast and even and oh, so, wonderful. As we talked, I found out that he had learned to play it by following the keys on a player piano to learn the piece. Many of the teenaged kids we meet have learned wonderful pieces by watching someone in slow motion on YouTube, showing them exactly which keys to push down and when.

We are interested in building pianists who love to play and can play music life-long. Not performing monkeys that impress with one or two pieces. Next time, we’ll suggest a list of a variety of skills that a good pianist should be able to demonstrate.

Til next time,


Concert Time

We had such a wonderful time today! We performed a two-piano concert at the Eaton Senior Communities complex. My mother lives there. They followed the concert with a tea with little sandwiches and sweets. There were about 65 people in the audience who all seemed to have a great time. Afterwards, many people came up to thank us and tell us what a great concert it was. The one that touched my heart the most was a woman who said, “My father was a concert pianist. He died when I was 9 years old. When I closed my eyes and listened to you play, I heard my father. Thank you.” Here’s the list of what we played. What fun it was!

  • In the Mood – duo
  • Malaguena
  • Pachelbel Canon in D – duo
  • Bach Prelude in C
  • Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy – duo
  • Chopin Fantasy Impromptu
  • Pink Panther – duo
  • A Decorated Hawk (Karen’s composition)
  • Diabelli Sonatina No. 1 – duo
  • Phantom of the Opera
  • Linus and Lucy
  • Sounds of Silence
  • Ronado Andalusia for Two Pianos by Karen Pancoast

Wish you could have been there. We had a great time.

Til next time,



Four Ways to Play the Piano

I got up in the middle of the night and found Howard sitting at the kitchen table writing in a notebook. He said he woke up, thinking about a new student and how to explain the various kinds of piano playing choices he had. The new students has only been playing for a few months and is working on Maple Leaf Rag. He’s got the first 2 lines figured out and learned. He is just starting the 3rd line. It has taken him several weeks. He’s a good practicer. However, in order to build his musical skills, so that every new piece is not as difficult as this first one, he needs to do other things. That is what prompted Howard’s insomnia. How could he explain it to him? Here is what he came up with.

There are 4 ways to play the piano:

  1. Practice Pieces
  2. Read Music
  3. Play By Ear
  4. Improvise

There are many pianists who are very good at one or two of these ways of playing. The very best pianists do all of them. In coming blogs, we will explore each of these in more detail.

Til next time,