4 Tips for expressive piano playing using ‘Green Shade’ [RCM Level 6 List C]

Before learning to play music by composers like Chopin and Mendelssohn, intermediate piano students benefit from repertoire that nurtures expressive, Romantic-styled playing.

One of my best-loved pieces, Green Shade is listed in the Royal Conservatory of Music’s 2022 syllabus as a Grade 6 List C selection. It brings out expressive playing, hand-to-hand slurs, has long phrases and is good for developing a singing right hand melody while balancing a softer, arpeggiated and flowing left hand. The style is dreamy, and what I call impressionist jazz.

In ‘Green Shade’ the music feels like a hot summer’s day when the breeze barely moves and you want to find a little shade. In the opening I imagine distant waves on the ocean shore. Take a listen!

Green Shade RCM Level 6 List C played by Rebekah Maxner

‘Green Shade’ is available in The Color Collection, a published collection of piano solos for Early to Late Intermediate piano, and also as a single ‘Green Shade’ eSheet (click here).

Here are 4 pointers for expressive playing using Green Shade.

1. Hand-to-hand slurs

To create a flow from left hand to right through the hand-to-hand slurs in the opening and throughout the piece (as shown in the score below):

  • begin on low E-flat playing LH finger 5 with a foundational, deeper sound and a little more weight from the arm into the finger
  • blend over thumbs with no accents mid-slur, playing all the way to the seven chord on beat 1 of the following measure
  • imagine each phrase as a single wave on the ocean shore, swelling through the phrase then breaking gently on beat 1

2. Bring out the melody

To play with a singing melody in the right hand while keeping the left hand accompaniment softer, try these warm-ups for unequal weight in the hands:

  • hold your hands up and push your fingers on your teacher’s, pushing more with your right hand than your left. Your teacher should push back into your right hand for reinforcement, and keep your left hand light
  • push both hands against the front of the piano, imagining you want to move it across the floor in a circle, pushing more with your right hand than your left
  • drop into any piano keys, first RH deeply with a forte sound, then LH lightly with a piano sound, first melody hand (RH), then accompaniment hand (LH). Play back and forth several times, eventually playing both hands together, but continuing to play RH deeply and LH lightly

In ‘Green Shade’ the melody begins on RH B-flat in measure 4. Playing hands separately or together (after the above warm-ups), keep the feeling of more weight in your right hand melody, and less weight in your left hand accompaniment.

3. Play through the long phrase

To play a long phrase expressively, first find the apex of the phrase. The apex can be:

  • the highest note
  • can be on a first beat of a measure
  • can be a long note
  • is often found three-quarters of the way through a phrase

In short, the apex of a phrase sounds like the note to which the phrase is building, the destination point. Irina Gorin calls it the ‘magnet note’. In Green Shade, the apex of the second macro phrase is also the high point of the whole piece, and is found on beat 1 of measure 24.

To play the phrase musically, have the apex of the phrase in mind as the macro phrase begins in measure 15, and pace your delivery with a slow build to the apex, and then a falling away, or diminuendo afterwards.

4. Learn the inspiration behind the music

In the early 2000s I fell in love with Patricia Godwin’s I Feel Orange Today, a book of poems for children. In her book, Patricia likens moods to colours. I aspired to capture the spirit of her writing by turning each poem into a piece of music. Eventually the ten poems in her book became the ten pieces in The Color Collection.

I Feel Orange Today by Patricia Godwin published by Annick Press.

One night a very musical teen who had been my student for many years broke the news to me that she was no longer going to take piano lessons. Basketball had become more important to her. Feeling sad after her lesson, I turned to the green poem and began to improvise on the piano to express how I felt about her discontinuing lessons.

When you read the poem, you’ll be able to hear how the rhythm of the words became the rhythm of the music. Knowing this will help you understand and perform the music better.

Godwin’s words inspired the melody of Green Shade, RCM Level 6 List C.

“Thank you, Rebekah, for your delightful, imaginative melodies that have captured the essence of the feelings expressed in my book ‘I Feel Orange Today’.” ~ Patricia Godwin

After an extended break from piano lessons, my musical student returned! I pitched Green Shade to her and she learned it! What a happy ending!

If you are looking to develop expressive playing in your intermediate piano students that will prepare them for more advanced repertoire like Chopin nocturnes and Mendelssohn songs without words, keep this piece in mind. ‘Green Shade’ is a little gem for the maturing musician.

Here are the links once again for The Color Collection, and the ‘Green Shade’ eSheet (click here).

Green Shade is available in The Color Collection.

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I appreciate shares, comments and likes. Happy teaching!

Video of the Week

Joy in the Morning (Late Intermediate, Level 6). “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. … There was however, a night to endure before the morning dawned.” Develop the sense of the long melodic line and shaping of the phrase as it leads forward to its apex point. Agogic accents are encouraged. When a move feels too far for the strict time, it’s okay to take your time. The left hand features closed and open chords in a semi-Alberti bass pattern. Joy in the Morning is available as an eSheet!

Listen to Joy in the Morning on YouTube!
A short sound clip of Green Shade, RCM Level 6, List C.

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