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Fun Classical Piano Arrangements [RR#6]

By Tim Topham | Repertoire

May 13 2017

Fun Classical Piano Arrangements

Good morning everyone. Great to be hanging out with you again today for my Repertoire Rap series. We’re up to number six and today’s video is all about teaching cool classical piano arrangements that kids love. Some of you are going to be a little bit surprised, I would imagine, to hear me talking about classical piano arrangements because a lot of what I give courses about and give lectures about and present at conferences is all about pop and modern music and approaches to teaching that.

You may be surprised to know that I actually teach a lot of classical music and it’s something that I love playing myself as well, because there’s no doubt that classical music is one of the best ways to improve your technique, right? It’s also great music. There’s no doubt about that and kids love it. The reason I really enjoy using some of the music that I’m going to show you today is because just as I use pop music as a hook to keep kids motivated and interested, I also use classical music in the same way.

A really good classical piano arrangement of a piece of music, particularly something that’s used on TV or an ad or that’s just really, really famous, kids will go, “Ah, that’s cool. I want to learn that.” We all know how much kids love playing Fur Elise, for example, right? It’s the same thing, but there’s plenty of other pieces of music out there that are great hooks for kids to really help them, motivate them, and get them perhaps back into practice if they’re starting to trail off a little bit or you’re having any trouble engaging them. A really good piece of classical music that’s an easy, simplified arrangement, it’s not going to take them very long to learn, that they know how it sounds, that adds that relevancy for the student and really helps connect it to their modern day life.

A lot of the great classical pieces have been used … Excuse me, putting my cup of tea down. Have been used in advertising, so kids know them. They’re on car ads or selling something, who knows? There’s all sorts of different things. Good to see you there, Biff, live on the call. People in the States, it’s about 6:30 pm, hopefully I’ve caught you jest before dinnertime. It won’t be too long today.

What I’m going to do is I’m going to go through … What have I got? Five different books or series of books that I think are essential for teachers to have when it comes to really good classical arrangements. These are all generally at the easier level, so we’re talking beginner, early intermediate level. The other thing I’m going to show you is a great site that I use online for free online arrangements of classical music. Now, the great thing about classical music, of course, is that it’s all out of copyright. Anything greater than about 70 years written previously, 70 years ago, tends to be out of copyright, so arrangements that you find, people taking a Beethoven symphony or a Chopin waltz or something like that and making it their own, as long as it’s not clearly a photocopy of a book, if it’s someone’s personal arrangement then anyone can do that.

You can do it, I could do it, and that’s totally fine as long as it’s not a copy of a published version of that book, if that makes sense. I’m going to show you a great site out there that has some really great, fun, free classical piano arrangements that I’ve used many, many times to inspire and grab kids. Let’s get started. As usual, if you like a piece of music, would love a thumbs up and feel free to click that share button if you think this is going to be useful for anyone else who hangs out on Facebook with you.

Now, I’ll just say too, before I start, most of the pieces that I’m talking about are arrangements of classics. They’re fun pieces of music that a full version is either an orchestral work or something too difficult, or the piece of music itself is too hard. A lot of these are simplified arrangements. Now I like them for a number of reasons but mostly because if you’re using a classical arrangement to really engage a student and maybe just grab them back if they’re on the edge of maybe not continuing their lessons or something like that, then you want something that’s relatively easy but sounds great and has a really good arrangement. That’s what I’m going to show you today because I know just about every piano teacher out there knows where to go for original works by Haydn and Mozart and Handel and all those kinds of things.

Today it’s about classical piano arrangements. Now I’ll just give one more caveat to that and that’s to say that I love original versions of classical music and they are the best things to use if you possibly can so I wouldn’t advocate a diet of only arranged, simplified classical works. I think students should learn some proper Beethoven or Bach pieces. There are nice easy ones out there. What I’m talking now today is those great, fun arrangements of tunes that kids know and that’s what I’m really getting at today. Tunes that students know that they’re going to really hook into. Okay?

Piano Time Classics

Let’s get started. First book I’m going to show you is called Piano Time Classics. This is actually the More Piano Time Classics, so this is book two in the series. I’ll just play you a couple of arrangements from this. Again, they’re nice and short. Look, there’s three on these two pages here. Really, really accessible, kids can learn them fast, have a lot of fun with them and bang, you might be able to then get them onto something else, okay?

Here’s a version of Handel’s Largo which I thought was really good. Nice, straightforward, rolls along with a bit of pedal. Beautiful arrangement and that’s just so simple. That’s an early intermediate piece at the hardest. There’s also pieces like the Canon here, Dido’s Lament, there’s the Sonata, Mozart. Again, they’ve been arranged so they’re nice and easy to learn. I like this version of Morning from Peer Gynt.

I’m going to show you another and even more simplified version of this when I get to one of the online resources I was going to tell you about. There’s the Polovtsian Dance from Prince Igor as well. All the good, good classical tunes that kids are going to know. The last one I want to show you from this is Trumpet Voluntary, one of my favourites and one that students around the world certainly enjoy playing. Now maybe when it comes to something like that, you could work on the trills with the student or just take them out entirely, but it’s a good little introduction to that. It’s an important part of playing Baroque music, so it’d be a good one to introduce. That’s More Piano Time Classics. I think there’s two books in this series. There’s Piano Time Pop and Piano Time Fun and I think there’s a whole lot of different ones, but I think this is a really great book.

Piano Works Collection

Now if you don’t want to take notes or anything today then just head to topmusic.co/rap, R-A-P, and you can grab all the links to everything I’m talking about today. That’s the first book. Second one is the Piano Works Collection. Give me a thumbs up or a heart if you know about this or perhaps you’ve used it before. This is by Janet and Alan Bullard, and this again is book two in a collection. This is the one that I use the most so I thought I’d show you that.

One of the first pieces in this book is Pastime With Good Company. Now, I actually learned about this from accompanying choirs at my last school and this is a really simple arrangement of an … This is from the 1491, this is Henry the VIII wrote this piece, right? 1491 to mid-1500s. It’s really good if you want to explore with students that … It’s almost medieval sounding. Have a listen. You can instantly see a medieval court and jesters and banquets and things like that. It’s just a really good piece. It’s really simple and if you want to explore that style of music with students then it’s a great one to check out.

In this book as well we’ve got things like this tune from Rigoletto. Again, I find that when I start playing, as soon as I start playing these pieces, students, they light up. It’s a little bit like playing them an old friend that they didn’t really know that they had. They suddenly realised, “Oh, there’s some really cool classical tunes out there.” Thanks, Tracey, you like that one as well? That’s good to hear.

Now this book I should mention does have some modern works in it as well so it’s a good little mix. There’s some variety. A couple of the other classical arrangements I like … There’s the Brahms Sonntag, Sunday. There’s some, there’s Bach, there’s all sorts of different people in here. What’s one of the other ones I like? Oh, and I’m not going to play it except to play the intro just to show you that this piece is in there as well because we generally always teach this at some stage.You know that one. That’s also in this book, so if that’s a piece that you teach, and that’s of course an original arrangement, so this is a good mix of a couple of great classic arrangements that kids are going to know and simplifies things for them, and then some originals, which is a good mix to have there, too.

Thank you, Sandy. I’m just noting your comment about Rigoletto and the Quartet, which is the movie, right? I haven’t seen it, so I don’t even know exactly what you’re referring to. You’ll have to enlighten me at another stage.

All right, the third book that I want to mention today is It’s Never Too Late To Play Classics, which is this one here. It’s by my good friend, Pam Wedgwood. Now I’ve mentioned Pam in a couple of Repertoire Raps already and I thought, “Oh, it’d be good to try some other composers,” but you know what? I couldn’t go past this book. Pam just puts together great arrangements, right? This one is a slightly harder level. Not too bad. Not too much harder. It’s got this one in it. In a similar kind of style, slightly more complex, but I like I Vow To Thee, My Country from The Planet. This is in here.

That’s a great one for students to learn, too. Flows along really nicely. Some of them may have even sung it as part of their schooling, who knows? This book’s also got… this gem in it. Sandy, it’s about a retirement home for musicians. The Quartet. I’ll have to check it out. I have heard of it but I haven’t actually watched it. All right, also in Pam Wedgwood’s book is a simplified version of the Raindrop Prelude. Now this is pretty popular and I find my students recognize it. This is a version in C Major. You know, if you didn’t have perfect pitch and I actually played it without mistakes, you’d probably go, “Yeah, that sounds pretty realistic, I think.”

Now one of my favourites in this book is The Chorus Of The Hebrew Slaves from Nabucco. Really great piece of music, good arrangement, and it’s been used a fair bit so kids do know about this one. Give me a bit of a thumbs up or a heart if you like this one. How nice is that, right? I would actually quite enjoy playing the whole of that piece. Nice, simplified arrangement that can be really appealing and can capture students. There’s Fantasy Impromptu, Flower Duet, Rondo Alla Turca, lots of great stuff in here. That’s It’s Never Too Late To Play Classics, Pam Wedgwood. Great book as well.

Beethoven Arrangements

All right, on to Beethoven. Now we all love Beethoven as piano teachers, I know and I know some people are going to cringe at me suggesting some simplified Beethoven arrangements but you know what? There are some winners in here. This is called Beethoven Gold. There’s also Mozart Gold and Bach Gold and different collections. It’s the easy piano version. Just make sure when you check the link at topmusic.co/rap, you’ll be able to get the link to those books. The thing I like about this is that if the Beethoven piece in it is relatively easy then they actually put the full version in. For example, we’ve got the Ecossaise. Okay, etc.

That piece is in there, complete, and I’ll play a couple of other ones that are complete and in their original form, but then we also have some simplification arrangements. Simplified arrangements. This is the Second Movement from The Emperor Piano Concerto. You probably want me to play on but I’m not going to because we’re running out of time. That’s a great example. that’s what the music looks like. A great example of a simplified arrangement that just sounds really, really warm and is engaging and it’s achievable and it’s approachable and I think they’re the main things that I like about this.

Also in here you’ve got some of Beethoven’s other classics, again in simplified version, so you’ll know this one. Again, for an untrained ear and if you don’t have perfect pitch, you’d listen to that and go, “You know what? That sounds pretty much like I know the original sounds.” It’s clearly not quite as rich and warm because it’s missing some of the harmony but it’s pretty good and it’s that kind of thing that I think really captures students.

Now the next one I’m going to play you is a simplified version of the Moonlight Sonata and before you groan, I just want to tell you, I’ve saved quite a few teenage students with this very arrangement of this piece. It’s in E Minor. Moves between the right and left hand. Nice, I see a thumbs up for that one. Let me know if you are enjoying these. It’s this kind of music that if you’ve got a teenager, an adult, who’s just … They’re quite new to music and they haven’t … They’re not very fluent with their reading, perhaps, and you’re not so strong on the pop or the improvising, then this is the kind of piece that you could teach quite well. It’s very chordally based, so it’s got some great teaching point around chords and progressions and things like that.

This kind of work can really capture particularly teenagers because it’s almost got that film music sound to it. Teenagers and adults really like this. That’s the Moonlight Sonata simplification in this book Beethoven Gold. Jack is asking, “Although simplified, are they in the original keys?” It depends. This one obviously isn’t in C Sharp Minor. This is in E Minor, so a lot of the arrangements aren’t in the original keys. The last one I’ll play from this book is another original. This is another piece that many piano teachers teach. I’ve taught a number of times, it’s the Sonatina in G Major, First Movement, and this is again, the original. It’s a great mix of, if it’s easy, they’ve got the original pieces in here.

Sorry about my slightly rough handling with that piece, but I think many of you know it. A lot of us teach it. It’s a great introduction to Beethoven for students. That’s the Sonatina in G Major. That’s the kind of music that you’ll find in this book. It’s the easy piano version of Beethoven Gold. Look, I haven’t checked out the other books in this series very much. I’ve had a brief look at a couple of them, so if I do find that they’re useful, so the Mozart and the Bach and I think there’s a Chopin one, I’ll let you know, but again, might be worth checking out while you’re on Amazon or wherever you buy your books. See if you like some of the other versions in there.

Carol Matz’s Famous & Fun Classics

Now the last one, I couldn’t find my book for in this morning’s rush to get organised. It’s Carol Matz’s Famous & Fun Classics. Now, give me a thumbs up if you’ve used this series before. If you haven’t then make sure you grab it. It’s a five or six book series. Carol’s got Famous & Fun Pop, Famous & Fun Duets, Famous & Fun … It’s a series, right? The Famous & Fun Classics … Good to see some thumbs up … Are really great. Have them in your studio. I think you’ll be really, really surprised at how engaging they are. I just want to play you a couple of pieces from book two and three.

This is what I use for beginners. If a student has learned to read the first … From C to G in the right hand, then they can play a number of the pieces in book one and two, and they come with teacher accompaniments. How good’s that? In The Hall Of The Mountain King is one that I’ve used a number of times. You know the rest of it so I’m not going to play much more of that, but the teacher part… and then later … and then later … All right. Great fun to play. Students really enjoy this one and they could take it away for a week, maybe, come back and you’ve got a little duet to play together. I think it’s a real win-win situation. Again, they know the tune so they’ll enjoy playing it.

It’s got something like Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring, as well. This time it’s written in 3/4, so it’s written relatively slowly, and it’s got some really nice chords for the teacher. Together, I actually guarantee you, it sounds really, really great when the two parts come together. There’s lots of great classical themes in both these books. I won’t go into too much detail. I do just want to show you from book three, also Sprach Zarathustra from Space Odyssey movie. Actually, I should start quietly.

Now I think I’d be right in saying that a lot of students would still recognise this tune. This is from a long time ago. It was written by Strauss a long time ago and then it was used in a movie that’s very much old now but again, kids know it because it’s been used in advertising in particular, so I think something like that’s a real winner. Definitely check out Carol Matz’s books. Again, link on my topmusic.co/rap page. Thank you, Christine, for your helpful comment there. Also actually in that series I should say, another one that I love is a simplified version of Clair De Lune. I couldn’t find it this morning but it’s a really simplified arrangement that someone who’s only been learning a year maybe and can do some basic note-reading and counting 3/4 could learn. In fact, it’s really great for counting because there’s a lot of rests to count and hold to get the right value. That’s also in the Famous & Fun Classics.

I should let you know that Carol’s coming on my podcast later this month, too. We did our recording not long ago, so Carol Matz live on the podcast during Pop Month and she’s coming in to talk to us about arranging and some tips for arranging because I couldn’t play all that stuff and teach with it so many times and not have her on the podcast to ask her about arranging, so there we go.

Online Classical Music Resource

The last thing I want to show you before we wrap up today is an online site. It’s called G Major Music Theory. I don’t know if anyone has heard this site. It’s not the best domain name for what’s there. It’s probably got a lot of theory stuff but I’ve actually never used it, but it has a whole lot of awesome arrangements of simple tunes and it’s arranged by primer, level one, two, three, four, five, and they’re all free. It’s all out-of-copyright music. A guy called Gilbert DeBenedetti, I think his name is, has put this together. They’re freely available and I’ve used these heaps in my teaching. They are great fun and kids really enjoy them, and you can just grab them, so why wouldn’t you? I would say. The link to his website is at topmusic.co/rap. Just scroll down the page till you get to Repertoire Rap Six which is this one, and you’ll see the links to everything I’ve talked about today.

Let me show you a couple of things that I’ve used on his site. Firstly, and again, teachers don’t groan at me. I’m going to show you a simplified level one version of Fur Elise, and again, this is one that students can learn if they can read five-finger position, C Major position in both hands and they understand what a flat, a natural, and a sharp is, they could play this. It goes like this. This is just a C Minor chord. G7. At the end, a little crossover at the end. Really approachable. Really straightforward, but for someone that’s new to music reading, you’ve got a piece there that might take a couple of weeks to learn. They’re going to love it because it’s something that they’ve always wanted to play and everyone wants to play. I still haven’t worked out why everyone wants to play Fur Elise so much. I don’t think it’s ever going to fail to be one of those pieces that we all teach, all the time. It’s amazing, isn’t it?

I’ll give you a closeup view. That’s what it looks like. Good to see some thumbs up for that one. That’s a great example of the kind of music that is on this website. Another one that I learned … Sorry, that I’ve used is this one. Now I know the musical theory purists will not be happy with the second chord in the left hand. It’s not true to the original exactly but that’s okay. This is just an arrangement. It’s okay. It’s going to be good fun. All right.

Rondo Alla Turca is also in this. Nice, simple version of that. Of course I’m picking all the ones, as you should be as well, that students are going to enjoy because they’re going to know them. I mentioned that Morning song, Peer Gynt, was in this. It actually comes up in just about every simplified arrangement of books, okay? Nice to see you, Kaz, as well. Welcome to the video today. I like this one because it’s good … Most of you will know that I have a fairly chordal approach to teaching. That doesn’t mean I don’t teach a note reading approach, but whenever I can relate something to chords that students are learning, I will try and make that connection because it’s so important, in my opinion, in learning about music. Making that connection with harmony.

This one starts in C Major and then at the second time, we’re into a new key position. This is a great opportunity to discuss with students or ask them, “What chord are we in now? What position?” We’ve effectively modulated and they’re now in root position, E Major, both hands. It goes and does exactly the same thing in E Major. Then we’re back to… What I have talked to them about is, it’s quite an unusual chord progression to go from C to E Major. What does it do? How does that affect the sound?

Students will often say, “It’s uplifting, isn’t it?” It’s like something grand’s happening and the sun’s coming out. It’s called Morning Song, right? How could they then use that potentially in their own composing or their own chord progression? That’s the kind of questions that I love, and discussions that I love having with students. Thanks, Pamela. Nice to see you. Glad you enjoyed today’s presentation.

The other thing you could do with this is, we could continue the movement of the piano. It’s gone from C to the major third. Could we go from here to the major third? That’s G Sharp Major. If we go to the major third, we’re back to C Major. It’s an interesting chord progression, actually, if you continue it up. That’s just a little aside about the way that I teach and the things that I get students to think about.

Last couple of pieces, this is again from G Major Music Theory, the website that I’ve been talking about. Also has this. I’ve used this tune basically because I love it myself. Give me a thumbs up if you like the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts by … It’s been used by lots of people. I love the Copland version. Aaron Copland’s version’s fantastic. I’ve always loved it and I’ve always taught it and it’s great for teaching kids. When it comes to arranging, it’s a really good piece for that, too. Uses some simple chords and you can … Thanks for the thumbs up. You can easily change the chords too and create different arrangements. Great tune. That’s on his website as well. Simple Gifts.

I think the last one I’ll show you, he’s got a number of Christian and hymns and those type of folk tunes as well. The old school ones that students really love. There’s this. I made that bit up. That’s the Battle Hymn Of The Republic. Great tune for students. If you want to help them understand and feel a dotted rhythm, absolute winner. It’s all freely available on his website. I hope that’s been helpful.

A little bit of an overview of the kinds of music that I like using for students as real hooks in to help them … re-motivate them if they’re lacking in practice a little bit, or if you’ve got a fairly heavy schedule of competition performance and exam preparation and that sort of thing to throw in a couple of easy pieces at a significantly lower level than the student’s already operating at. You could give that Battle Hymn that I just played then to a student who’s been playing for four or five years and just say, “Have some fun with this this week and play it next week and maybe I’ll play along with you and do some …” Just have some fun with it for five, ten minutes of a lesson. Or, as I say, you could use it for students who just need that little bit of a hook back into re-motivate them. Give them something fun that they recognise and they can make a connection to because it’s perhaps been on TV or an ad or used in a film and that sort of thing.

Pop Piano Teaching Month

Just wanted to quickly remind you before I sign off today that this month we’ve just started my Pop Teaching Month. As I mentioned right at the start, many of you will know me from my pop teaching work and one of my big passions is helping teachers to teach in a way that really engages students. Part of that approach is becoming more and more about using pop music in your lesson. This month is all about pop and I’m starting it off with a webinar. In fact, two live webinars at different times to suit different time zones, this weekend.

If you are in the States or Australia, your time is in the States, Saturday night. That’s Melbourne Sunday morning. That’s also Hong Kong, Perth, Singapore, that’s Sunday morning for you guys. It’s a little bit early but grab a coffee and you can join us. It’s about 7:00 am, 9:00 am Melbourne time or in the States, 7:00 pm. I’m doing a second live webinar broadcast and that’s at 7:00 pm London time on Sunday night, which is my Monday morning at a time that I don’t want to think about at the moment. It’s going to be great fun. I’ll make sure I’ve had some coffee in the morning and my goal with these webinars is to give you my top four or five tips to the main questions I always get asked about teaching pop music.

Things like, “What do you do when the music’s too hard?” “How to simplify?” “What’s my approach with reading rhythm?” Which is always, always a challenge. Help choosing pop, and we’re also going to cover, I’m going to give a few little tips about how I use the chordal approach to teach students about composing and give them some steps to compose and I call it my Four Chord Composing Method or idea. I’ll show you a few ideas about that if you can join me live. It’ll be really, really good. To find out about that you can head to topmusic.co/training, and that should take you straight there.

If you can’t find that for some reason, then stay tuned to your email. I will make sure that the information gets sent out. You might have received it already. Finally, I’ll set up a Facebook event, so if you’re a Facebooker, as many of you are, I’ll make sure I pop the details on there. I hope that’s been really, really helpful for you today. I’ll see many of you this weekend, live on the webinar. Hope you can join me for that and again, if you’ve got any questions or thoughts about any of what I’ve covered today then head to topmusic.co/rap. I’ll put the link in the comments as soon as I finish this. Head there and you can quickly download anything that I’ve talked about today.

If you would like to give me a bit of a thumbs up or a heart or even better, a little share, it would be really, really appreciated. If you find these helpful, I would love to spread the word about them to more people so do tell them about that and press that share button for me. I’d be really, really appreciate it. Thank you Peter, for your joining us today and also for Biff and everyone else. I saw a few people pop into the call. It’s been great to see you all and I look forward to speaking to you again soon. Thanks for the hearts. I can see them popping up now. I’m going to sign off. Hope you enjoy your day or if you’re over in the States, or even if you’re in London, it’s probably bedtime for you. I think it’s probably about midnight or close to.

Signing off now. Thanks very much, everyone. Speak to you again soon.

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About the Author

Tim blogs regularly about piano teaching and loves cycling. You can find him in the kitchen...