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 expressive repertoire. They’re excellent picks for recital programs, too!
Pick #1 Farewell – Early Elementary Prep A
Play this for a special Celtic folk sound. Simple, beautiful and pure. ‘Farewell’ was composed to sound like an Irish folk song.
- 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.
Pick #2 The Sad Clown Waltzes Alone – Elementary Prep B
Sometimes it’s nice to learn a piece that expresses our solitary moments, and young children like music that sounds mature.
- 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: Shaping the two-note slurs to sound ‘MORE-less.’
- 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.
Pick #3 Misty River – Late Elementary Level 2
With a spinning three-note melody and tender downward-stepping bass line, students fall in love with this simple yet thoughtful piece.
- What makes it easy: The rhythmic and melodic pattern is repeated, simple, and catchy.
- The challenge: Playing delicately within the soft dynamic range.
- What makes it beautiful: As the harmonies emerge, it feels like a transformation.
Pick #4 Black Horse – Early Intermediate Level 3
The rippling 6/8 eighth notes gallop, and it sounds like the horse is on an adventure, but perhaps a tragic one.
- 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.
Pick #5 Deep in the Meadow – Early Intermediate 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.
- 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.
Pick #6 Twinkle, Twinkle Superstar – Early Intermediate Level 3
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.
- 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.
Ready for fresh, beautiful repertoire?
Somehow it just feels right to add an expressive, beautiful piece to a student’s repertoire! Get yours now!
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Video of the Week
Gray Day (Early Intermediate, Level 3), slow impressionist jazz. It’s a great piece to develop sensitive, introspective playing, bringing out the LH melody and playing softer with the RH. Written the day my cat died. From the print and eBook The Color Collection, Early to Late Intermediate Piano Solos. Or, check out the Gray Day eSheet!