The New Year is always a time of celebration, but this year especially so. We’ve journeyed through a really tough year. We’ve lost a lot, but we’ve also grown a lot. I don’t want to diminish our struggles by closing the year with “let’s focus on all the good things that happened.” But I don’t have the words to express the hardships of 2020.
Following tradition, here are the top 5 posts of 2020, and here’s to moving forward with ever-growing hope into 2021. May we find peace, love, and safety in the coming year.
As a music academic, I often take for granted how easy it is for me to just read through a score by W.A. Mozart. I don’t have to think about what all the weird squiggles mean or what articulations are appropriate. There was a time I didn’t know these things, and I remember wishing for some kind of guide. So I wrote one for all the new pianists exploring Mozart’s work.
In this post, I explained how to play all the weird squiggles above the staff, talked about “historical accuracy,” and other specific techniques required of playing Mozart’s work. It’s important to be informed of performance traditions, as they help us find our own, deliberate ways of interpreting classic works.
Early in 2019, I signed up for Dr. Josh Wright’s Lifetime Access ProPractice Course, which is one of the biggest gifts I gave myself. I had been a long-time follower of his Youtube channel, which I found looking for ways to get rid of my tendinitis. His clear explanations of technique combined with his passion for interpreting music informed by history and theory renewed my love for piano, and I wanted to share this great resource with others.
In this review of the course, I describe what’s in each level (early beginner, mid–late beginner, intermediate, and advanced), and what it feels like to go through each level. Dr. Wright also provides a ton of additional free and discounted resources for his students, so I talk about those as well in the review!
One of the questions I get the most from pianists of all levels is “how do I pick music that’s the right level?” This is especially pressing for self-taught pianists, so I wrote this guide to help answer that question.
I first discuss how you can figure out what level you’re actually at. Then I talk about what level repertoire you should be picking — you need a healthy balance of challenge and comfort pieces. I also include links to websites where you can find repertoire organized by level. There are both free and paid sites for these.
2. Chopin’s Architecture: Phrase Structure in Chopin’s Waltz in B Minor, Op. 69 No. 2 for Composers, Performers, and Listeners
Chopin’s waltzes rank among some of my absolute favorite pieces of music, and I’ve always been curious about why. What’s in them that speaks to me? In this exploration of the Waltz in B Minor, Op. 69 No. 2, I focus mostly on phrase structure (sentences and periods).
I explain what these structures are and where they’re found in this piece. Then, I show how that knowledge can inform performances and listeners to feel the piece more deeply. Additionally, I show how composers can use these structures as a model for their own work. I even wrote a mini-waltz as an example! I’m glad people liked it. :)
1. Twinkling Possibilities: Performance Tips and Theory Tidbits for Mozart’s 12 Variations on ‘Ah vous dirai-je, Maman,’ Part 1
One of Mozart’s most famous works, especially for pianists, is his “Twinkle Twinkle Variations.” This is one of the pieces that made me want to learn piano in the first place! It’s silly, clever, and astonishingly complex all rolled into one crowd-pleaser. The piece also serves as a great example of the variation form and how variation is a type of development in music. It’s an excellent model for composers.
In the post, I go variation by variation, discussing the compositional techniques Mozart uses and how to play them with ease. I provide links to helpful resources for every technique and even include sheet music with recommended fingerings. I’m glad so many people have found it helpful (and stuck around for part 2 as well!).
Final Thoughts for 2020
Life is hard. It always has been. And this year has been especially so.
But I’ve found that many people are resilient and kind. I hope you are. Music is an important part of sharing kindness and goodwill. It’s a way of saying, “I’m here too. We’re doing this together.”
I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to help so many musicians along their path this year. It’s cliched, but hearing from the people who emailed me this year helped me a lot too. I find inspiration from new musicians. Hearing their stories, reveling with them in their excitement for starting piano or music theory, is a gift.
Keep sharing your stories with people. Be kind. Be brave. Be safe.
Happy New Year!
About the Author
Amy King is a music theory and piano instructor currently residing in the Chicago area.
- Master of Music in Music Theory and Cognition from Northwestern University (June 2020)
- Bachelor of Arts in Piano Performance and English Literature from High Point University (May 2016)
- where she received the Outstanding Senior Music Major Award, which is awarded to one single graduating music student per year
Amy has been teaching private piano lessons for 12+ years, taught classroom music theory for 5 years, directed choirs spanning ages 4–25, led and arranged for a university a capella group, and composed and arranged music for various soloists and ensembles.