6 Expressive Repertoire Picks for Early Piano Levels [Free samples]

Expressive music is perhaps the single biggest thing that hooks kids on piano. Give a student a piece that helps them discover their sensitive side, and you’ll see more practice, more personal investment and better advancement. When we want students to stick with piano lessons and love it, expressive music delivers.

All piano teachers know the benefits of developing expressive playing in our students. Plato said:

Music is a moral law. 

It gives soul to the universe

Wings to the mind

Flight to the imagination

A charm to sadness

Gaiety and life to everything.

It is the essence of order

and lends to all that is good, 

just and beautiful.

If we can find the right piece that accomplishes all of that for our students, we will succeed in passing on some of the more elusive, intangible benefits of piano lessons. 

Here are my six top picks for spring repertoire. If you start these pieces now, they can carry you through the rest of the warm lesson season. They’re excellent picks for recital programs, too!

Note: I have designed this blog post so that you can listen to the YouTube performances and read the music at the same time. And, there’s a bonus: if you read to the bottom of the post, you’ll learn how to print sample pages for free!

Pick #1 Misty River – Grade/Level 2

With a spinning three-note melody and tender downward-stepping bass line, students fall in love with this simple yet thoughtful piece. 

The first few measures of ‘Misty River.’
YouTube video for ‘Misty River.’
  • What makes it easy: The rhythmic and melodic pattern is repeated, simple, and catchy.
  • The challenge: Playing within the soft dynamic range. 
  • What makes it beautiful: As the harmonies emerge, it feels like a transformation. 
Misty River is available as a single use PDF download, or as part of the collection, 
Rock That Train

Pick #2 The Sad Clown Waltzes Alone – Prep B Level

This is a sad little waltz for elementary piano students. Sometimes it’s nice to learn a piece that expresses our solitary moments, and young children like music that sounds mature. 

The first few measures of ‘The Sad Clown Waltzes Alone.’
YouTube video for ‘The Sad Clown Waltzes Alone.’
  • What makes it easy: The hands rarely play together at the same time. One hand plays a note that sustains into the other hand’s waltz pattern. 
  • The challenge: Four consecutive measures with pedal changes on beat one.
  • What makes it beautiful: It’s in ‘a minor’ but the opening left hand melody begins on B, a beautiful, soft dissonance that resolves slowly. 
‘The Sad Clown Waltzes Alone’ is available as a single use PDF download or as part of the Red Leaf Pianoworks Anthology, Sprouts.

Pick #3 Black Horse – Grade/Level 2

This is quickly becoming a favorite of students and teachers. The rippling 6/8 eighth notes gallop, and it sounds like the horse is on an adventure, but perhaps a tragic one. 

The first few measures of ‘Black Horse.’
YouTube video for ‘Black Horse.’
  • What makes it easy: Black Horse can be taught by note and rote. If students know triads, the right hand is only a series of closely-positioned broken triads in a repeated pattern.
  • The challenge: The left hand crosses over the right to play melody notes. The challenge is to learn the moves with accuracy.
  • What makes it beautiful: Each time the left hand plays above the right, its melody note interplays with the broken triad with a wistful, tragic effect. 
‘Black Horse’ is available as a single use PDF download, or as part of the collection, 
The Color Collection Junior

Pick #4 Deep in the Meadow – Grade/Level 3

This is a sweet lullaby inspired by American author Suzanne Collins’s poem ‘Rue’s Lullaby.’ ‘Deep in the Meadow’ is a List C selection in the Royal Conservatory of Music’s syllabus for Level 3 exams. 

YouTube video for ‘Deep in the Meadow.’
  • What makes it easy: The left hand line has simple rhythms and a predictable progression.
  • The challenge: The melody, based on the words of the poem, is like a set of variations. The rhythms flow and need careful counting.
  • What makes it beautiful: The main tune is based on a simple three-note call, a descending minor 2nd followed by a descending Perfect 5th. It has a plaintive, soothing effect. 
‘Deep in the Meadow’ is available as a single use PDF download, or as part of the collection,
Madge’s Notebook.

Pick #5 Farewell – Beginner Level (early staff readers)

I’m including this one on my list because Saint Patrick’s Day is right around the corner, and ‘Farewell’ was composed to sound like an Irish folk song. It was originally written for the Titanic, which had its tragic maiden voyage in the spring of 1912 and was built in Ireland.

The first few measures of ‘Farewell.’
YouTube video for ‘Farewell.’
  • What makes it easy: Written for early readers (Primer-level students of most method books), the reading range is in the middle of the staff/piano and written with quarter, half, dotted-half and whole notes, with some tied notes. Mostly steps with some skips.
  • The challenge: Holding and counting the long notes, including the tied notes. 
  • What makes it beautiful: It has a delicate, lyrical melody with a vocal quality. It is rare for beginners to get to play truly beautiful music. The teacher duet makes it recital-worthy.
‘Farewell’ is available as a single use PDF download, or as part of the collection,
Titanic Elementary.

Pick #6 Twinkle, Twinkle Superstar – Grade/Level 4

This is a popular spin on ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,’ inspired by ‘The Rose,’ ‘What a Wonderful World,’ and Elton John’s lyrical piano style. With so many beautiful inspirations, it can’t help but sing.

The first few measures of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Superstar.’
YouTube video for ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Superstar.’
  • What makes it easy: The left hand chords keep a steady quarter pulse, straight from the popular genre.
  • The challenge: Keeping the left hand chords soft while letting the right hand melody sing.
  • What makes it beautiful: The melody is dressed up with extra notes and unexpected turns (non-chord tones) and the harmonies feel special and mature. 
 
‘Twinkle, Twinkle Superstar’ is available as a single use PDF download, or as part of the collection, 
Old MacDonald had the Blues

Ready for fresh, beautiful repertoire?

So, are you ready to welcome spring with fresh new picks? As spring unfolds with beauty emerging all around, somehow it just feels right to add an expressive, beautiful piece to a student’s repertoire. 

There are three ways to get my music:

PDF Single User License: Purchase each piece individually. The purchaser may print for personal use. If your student also wants a copy, it is affordably priced so they can purchase their own license to print. 

Book: Each of these pieces is available in a lovely printed 9 x 12 book with gorgeous cover art and easy-to-read notation. 

FREE PDF: To make it easy for you to try my music, I’ve added PDF samples that you can print for free. For these pieces (and soon for all of my music) feel free to print and try the first 11 measures at no cost. If you order a book and want to start teaching before it arrives, print the free PDF and get started. No more waiting! You’ll find the freebies in my shop, under Sheet Music by Level.

Do you like this post and want more? Scroll down and click “follow” to get notification of my posts each week in your inbox. Please share and comment. Happy teaching!

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