It’s an exciting day when your piano beginner has learned enough concepts to play (and read!) music that sounds sophisticated. “Jazz! Goes the Weasel” is a fun, quirky piece with break-out moments of pure jazzy joy. It has a perfect balance of music that is simple and attainable and music that challenges.
This article is designed for the teacher and student who want hints and tips from the composer of the piece.
1. Where “Jazz! Goes the Weasel” is published.
- Old MacDonald had the Blues, 12 familiar tunes in today’s popular styles; this is my bestselling 2010 piano collection.
- RCM: The Royal Conservatory’s Celebration Series Level 1 Piano Etudes, 2015 edition.
- LCM: The London College of Music Examinations Grade 1 Piano 2018-2020 book.
2. Updated YouTube performance.
This video update gives an example of the energy and vitality inherent in the piece, and has an improved sound quality over my original video.
3. What makes the piece easy.
This piece is built of reused and recycled material, bits that are used and played again and again. Learning one rhythm or melodic figure will set you up to be ready to play other parts of the piece, too.
Before opening the book, why not ask your student to be your copycat? Clap some rhythm samples from the piece, perhaps two measures long each. Continue to clap and repeat rhythm until the student finds them easy. After the rhythm has been fully experienced, your student will be ready to explore the notation.
When introducing the notation, the first focus will be to find what makes the piece easy. Help your student demystify the notation by discovering these things in a treasure hunt. This could be an overview or sprinkled bit-by-bit over several lessons as new sections are learned. The goal is to show that a few tidbits of music knowhow unlock the secrets to learning the whole piece.
In the Right Hand. Can you find…? Have you noticed…?
The rhythmic pattern of four quarters (crotchets) followed by four eighths (quavers) is repeated six times. How many times can you find this rhythm? (Clap it.) Measures 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, and 9-10, 11-12, 13-14. Once found, clap and count together. With this one rhythmic pattern you already have the basis for learning much of the piece!
In the second measure of each line, play the skipping eighth notes. What do they make? Broken triads (chords).
The fourth measure of each line (usually the last), has four eighth notes in a descending pattern. These intervals are always the same. Can you name them? Two half steps followed by a whole step (two semitones followed by a tone).
In the Left Hand. Can you find…? Have you noticed…?
The left hand plays the E-flat-C interval four times. Can you find them all? Measures 2, 4, 7 and 15.
There are two different follow-ups to the E-flat-C interval. What are they? In measures 2 and 4, the G-B third, part of the G chord. In measures 7 and 15, the D-C seventh, part of the D7 chord. Students of this level may not know how to name these chords, but it is interesting for the teacher to know this, and help the student with the level they may understand.
In measures 5-7 the lowest notes of the LH form a descending line. Play and name all of the notes. G – F-sharp – F-natural – E – E-flat – D.
Also, in measures 5-7 the left hand’s descending intervals are all the same. What are they? Half steps (semitones). What is this scale called? Chromatic.
When Hands Together. Can you find…? Have you noticed…?
In measures 2-3, compare beats 3-4-1-2 to the same beats in measures 4-5 (hint: both have a sfz). What is the same? The music is identical. (Note: one fingering is different, but that doesn’t come into play until it is played on the piano.)
Compare measures 7-8 to measures 15-16. What do you notice? The music is identical.
Compare and contrast pairs of measures 9-10, 11-12 and 13-14. What is the same? Measures 9, 11 and 13 are almost identical (green) with mp and mf dynamics. What is different? In measures 10, 12 and 14, beats 1-2 (pink) have the same rhythms with different tunes, but beats 3-4 (purple) are completely different each time.
4. Ideas on how to teach and learn the tricky parts.
Let’s focus on the syncopated rhythm in measure 2.
Step One: Notice that the RH rhythm of measures 1-2 and 9-10 are similar, except that measure 2’s eighth rest is followed by a syncopated rhythm and measure 10’s eighth rest is followed by three eighth notes.
By focusing on measures 9-10 first, your student will have a chance to clap and learn an easier rhythm that spells out the subdivided beats. Feeling these eighth notes will help prepare the student to feel the inner beats through the syncopated eighth-quarter tie in measure 2.
Copy the rhythmic notation of measures 9-10 by hand, with the eighth rest followed by three eighth notes. Write the beats and breakdowns of the beats below the rhythm. While counting the subdivided beat (1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and), clap the RH rhythm of measures 9-10, stopping on beat 1 of measure 11. Repeat several times.
Step Two: Beneath, lining up the beats, copy the rhythmic notation of measures 1-2, with the eighth rest followed by the syncopated eighth-quarter tie. Compare and contrast the two rhythms. Notice that the three eighths line up exactly with the syncopated rhythm, with the same inner beats.
While counting the subdivided beat (1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and), clap the RH rhythm of measures 1-2, stopping on beat 1 of measure 3. Give a big emphasis on the syncopated tied note.
Step Three: Now play the rest and syncopated rhythm in measure 2 on the piano, thumbs only. Play RH 1 on D and LH 1 on C (leaving out the E-flat), and count the subdivided beats at a slow tempo. Repeat several times.
Play and count again, adding LH 5 on E-flat. Repeat several times.
Now with a very slow tempo and counting, learn the beats leading up to and including the syncopation.
Let’s focus on the syncopated rhythm of the “Jazz! Goes the weasel” moments in measures 7-8 and 15-16.
Notice that this syncopated eighth-quarter tie is very similar to the one already learned, with a slow-tempo breakdown of three eighth note pulses within. You may follow a similar process of clapping and counting as above.
To learn to play the four part harmony on the piano, why not start thumbs-only again? This simplifies the LH, as the thumb simply repeats C, and gives opportunity to practice the RH move, with only the thumb jumping down the fourth from A to E. Simplifying each hand to one key and note allows the student to master playing the rhythm prior to adding all the fingers.
You and your student can decide how to add the rest of the fingers, keys and intervals. Hands separately? Hands together, but adding one key and interval at a time? How will you simplify the learning to build these sounds?
When I look at “Jazz! Goes the Weasel” as a piano teacher, I view it differently than I do when I think back on my composition process. When introducing this piece to a student at the Grade 1 Level, elements like rhythm, finger work and structure take priority. In Part II of this series, More Teaching Tips for “Jazz! Goes the Weasel”, I talk about Diana Krall’s influence, texture and harmony, which will help your student create a truly jazzy performance.
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