As you know from previous posts, I have a lot of students who enjoy playing computer game music and who regularly bring it to their lessons, often having struggled with it for weeks.
The biggest problem with most computer game music is that it is very poorly transcribed, and often almost unplayable. I have great trouble sight-reading it (and sight-reading is one of my strengths!), primarily because the transcribers don’t seem to understand key signatures or “8va” signs!!
Thankfully, Alfred seems to have solved some of these problems with this new offering. One of my students brought the “Easy Piano” version into his first lesson this year so I finally had a chance to check it out and I was pleasantly surprised. Please note that I’m not a ‘gamer’ and have only the faintest idea of what Super Mario is actually about, so the notes below are purely from a musical and teaching perspective.
|Super Mario Series for Piano
(Easy Piano). By Koji Kondo, Shiho Fujii, Asuka Ohta, Soyo Oka, Kenta Nagata, Hirokazu Tanaka, and Mahito Yokota. For Piano. This edition: Easy Piano. Book; Piano – Easy Piano Collection; Piano Supplemental. Video Game. Early Intermediate; Easy Piano; Elementary; Intermediate; Late Elementary; Late Intermediate. 76 pages. Published by Alfred Music Publishing (AP.38633)
No doubt if one of your students buys this book, he/she will already have in mind which pieces are the best. However there is a fair range of both musicality and difficulty in the book from 2-line “fanfares” to quite challenging 4-page pieces. Much of it is transposed into C major which makes it about as accessible as possible. However, one of the hardest things in all the pieces is the rhythm. For those unfamiliar with the “Super Mario” sound, have a listen to this clip (it’s the main theme) and keep in mind the rhythm:
That’s the first piece listed in the book and the one that students will know best. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the trickiest! The first piece that I thought was quite teachable was the “Underwater Background Music” on P.8 which is a fairly straightforward waltz of about Prelim/Grade 1 level:
I also liked the piece “The Lost Levels – Ending” which is a fairly easy piece in 4/4 and a good intro to triplets. “Castle Background Music” has a very dark sound and starts with the melody in the LH which is also a good challenge. The title music for “Dr Mario” is a fun piece in a jazz style with a walking bass which students around Grade 2 level should manage quite easily:
“Yoshi’s Island” background music has a bossa-nova rhythm in the LH and has a great island feel if your students can manage the rhythmic challenges. One of the next pieces, “Water Land” from Super Mario 64 was probably my favourite. It’s very well written and I think kids will really love the harmonies. It’s also 4 pages plus repeats so could easily work as a recital piece:
I couldn’t find a recording of my other favourite: “Dolpic Town” from Super Mario Sunshine which is another jazzy piece, but slower and more bluesy with quite easy rhythms. Lastly, I really liked the piano transcription of the “Ending Staff Credit Roll” music from Super Mario Galaxy which is one of the more challenging pieces and long (at 4 pages) and is a condensed version of a full orchestral score which is actually quite beautiful in its own right (starts at 5.40):
I certainly have a new respect for computer music composers having listened this music while researching this article (and I haven’t even started on Halo, Counter Strike and another of the other myriad titles that kids play). Listening to the last YouTube clip, you could be forgiven for thinking it was the work of one of the great film composers (and I guess that’s what computer games are fast becoming for many kids: an interactive movie with a soundtrack to support it).
In summary, I think Alfred has done a good job in putting this mix together and the transcriptions are about as playable as you’ll ever get for video game music. I don’t think any of it will appear on exam syllabi anytime soon, but it is worth checking out when you set aside some “repertoire time” this week! Hopefully someone will do it for Halo and Zelda soon…
Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular TopCast show, blogs regularly at topmusic.co and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as pedagogy, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, California Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.