May 20-May 26: Beautiful Singing

G. Puccini, O Mio Babbino Caro

"O mio babbino caro" ("Oh my dear daddy") is a soprano aria from the opera Gianni Schicchi (1918) by Giacomo Puccini to a libretto by Giovacchino Forzano.


  • Did you enjoy this style of singing?  Name some things you enjoyed or did not enjoy.

Apr. 29-May 5: Duet Variations

P. Rudzik, Three Blind Mice Duet Variations & The Wheels on The Bus Duet Variations

Two simple and humorous sets of variations based on popular children songs. Cheerful and fun to play.  These duets are accessible to many young beginners.  Both begin with a theme, followed by 3 variations.  Which one would you like to play?  What is your favourite variation in each duet?

Elemantary piano duet on the theme of Three Blind Mice.

Elementary piano duet based on the theme of The Wheels on the Bus.


  • Which duet would you like to play?
  • What is your favourite theme in each variation and why?

Apr. 22-Apr. 28: Pachelbel's Canon

J. Pachelbel, Canon in D major

Pachelbel's Canon is a popular piece you may have heard before.  A canon is a musical device in which 2 or more voices play the same melody, entering at different times.  You may have done something similar by "singing rounds" of a song.  Enjoy the following video of this beautiful piece accompanied by a scrolling score where you can see exactly what each instrument is playing.


  • Have you ever sang rounds of a song before?
  • What is the texture of this piece, or any canon?  (Homophonic, monophonic or polyphonic)  Refer to previous listening activities if you need a refresher on music textures!

Apr. 15-Apr. 21: A 20th Century Giant

S. Prokofiev, A Diabolic Suggestion

This week, we visit a famous post-romantic Soviet composer: Sergei Prokofiev. Prokofiev composed a large variety of genres such as concerti, ballets, symphonies, operas and solo piano music. He was an artist whose work had taken him not only around the Soviet Union, but to many Western European centres, Japan and the United States. The following piece was written in his teenage years.

I've included 2 videos for your enjoyment, one by Andre Laplante, which includes some interesting visual effects, as well as a live recording by Evgeny Kissin.


  • The word "diabolical" refers to something evil and devilish. Why do you think the piece is entitled Diabolical Suggestion?
  • Which recording did you like more and why?  What are some differences you noticed?
  • Bonus: What kind of scale is heard throughout the piece? (Hint: It is not a full scale, but fragments of a scale.)

Apr. 8-Apr. 14: A Taste of Cuba

Since spring has brought us nothing but snow thus far, I thought we might turn to music from a warmer place to uplift our spirits. Orquesta Sublime is a prominent Cuban band, established in 1956, that showcases traditional instrumentation and style.


  • How is this Cuban music different from the traditional European music you have heard in previous listening activities? Name at least 3 differences.

Apr. 1-Apr. 7: Rachmaninoff Week


“..a gift for long and broad melodies
imbued with a resigned melancholy that is never long absent.”


S. Rachmaninoff, Romance for 6 hands

The duet is common and well known to most.  Less frequently seen and heard are pieces for 6 hands, which we will explore this week!  This is a piece by the great pianist, composer, conductor, Sergei Rachmaninoff.  April 1st was the 145th birthday of this Russian composer of the Late Romantic era.  We have explored dramatic compositions of his, filled with passion and power.  This week's selection explores a composition which showcases a beautiful melody, in a gentler fashion.

In February, we listened to the first and third movement of Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto.  This piece begins with a short snippet of 2nd movement of this same piece, completing the concerto.  Although it is not included in this piece, the main theme of the 2nd movement is a beautiful melody that may sound familiar to some of you - likely because it has been featured in a popular Eric Carmen song, "All by Myself".  In fact, melodies from Rachmaninoff's music have been used in many songs from a wide variety of artists, including multiple Eric Carmen Songs, Frank Sinatra, and even Muse!  That is pop, jazz, and rock, all with a hint of Rachmaninoff inspiration!

Enjoy this family performance from Mario Arjero and his children.  The complete concerto is linked as well, simply for your enjoyment.

Timestamps of each movment

I. Moderato (00:50)

II. Adagio Sostenuto (12:40)

III. Allegro Scherzando (25:53)


  • Describe a scene or a picture that you feel fits this piece of music.
  • Including this week's piece, we have listened to snippets of the 3 different movements of a complete concerto.  The first movement, the second movement this week, and the third movement.  So far, which is your favourite and why?  After hearing excerpts that make up this monstrous masterpiece, what do you think is the story that it builds?


"He had the secret of the golden, living tone which comes from the heart ... I was always under the spell of his glorious and inimitable tone which could make me forget my uneasiness about his too rapidly fleeting fingers and his exaggerated rubatos. There was always the irresistible sensuous charm..."

Mar. 11-Mar. 17: Ragtime Fun

Scott Joplin, Maple Leaf Rag

Ragtime is a style that was most popular during the centuries before and after 1900 in the American midwest. It is known for its "ragged", syncopated rhythms, meaning that many notes are heard on offbeats, as though shifting the pulse. You've probably heard of "The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin, who was dubbed as the king of ragtime. Here is another popular tune composed and played by Joplin.


  • Try to clap or tap the beat while listening along. Do you find it hard or easy to feel the pulse?
  • Does the key of this piece sound major or minor? (Hint: major=happy, minor=sad)
  • What do you think are some challenges of playing ragtime piano?

Mar.4-Mar. 10: Disney Fantasia

G. Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue

American composer and pianist George Gershwin (1898-1937) had a knack for writing classical pieces infused with jazz and popular flavors. This piano concerto is featured in the Disney movie "Fantasia", whereby classical pieces performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra are set to animated scenes



  • Do you have a favorite Disney movie? What is it?
  • Imagine you got to make a film based off of Gershwin's music. What would your movie be about?
  • Throughout the work, you will hear many different tonalities, characters and moods. Name at least 3 moods that you feel through the piece.

Feb. 25-Mar. 3: The Nutcracker

Andante Maestoso (Pas de Deux)

This is a piece from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, transcribed for piano by Pletnev.

As pianists, we must maintain good technique by practicing scales, chords and arpeggios, which are the building blocks of music.  This is very apparent with a quick look at the score!  The lush accompaniment is simply arpeggios and triads. Dazzling runs are simply scales (at top speed).  As you can imagine, learning a piece like this would be far more attainable for a pianist fluent in these building blocks of technique, as opposed to one who is approaching them for the first time.  While noticing this is simple, playing them is not easy.  It is important to remember these achievements do not happen overnight - it is a result of years of practice! 

Another aspect of piano playing that becomes very obvious simply by looking at the score is the importance of balance to maintain clarity - keeping the melody dominant and accompaniment soft.  At first glance, finding the melody may seem like looking for a needle in a haystack!  There are far more notes in the accompaniment than the melody.

I've included a video of a live performance as well as one with the score, which will be used for the following questions.

The is from Samson Tsoy's performance in Calgary 2015 at the Honens Piano Festival/Competition.  The festival/competition brings a great variety of music events to Calgary each year.  The competition takes place every 3 years - the next one is coming soon this year, 2018.  You can learn more about the competition/festival here:

Questions for everyone

  • What does "andante" mean?  What does "maestoso" mean?
  • What is the primary texture of this piece? (Hint: think back to old listening activities)
  • Can you find and follow the melody on the score?  Show me at the next lesson!

Questions for advanced students (anyone who practices scales/chords/arpeggios)

  • What are the two arpeggios seen at 3:36 on the score?
  • The dazzling run at 4:20 is a descending G major scale.  How fast can you play a 4 octave descending G major scale?  Practice and show me at your next lesson!  What are some practice techniques to make sure scale like passages are clear and even?
  • Bonus: Identify the ascending scale at 3:58 (where the hands play together).  Anyone who gets this right will receive a prize!

Hint: Scales/chords/arpeggios don't always start on the root.  Scales may appear beginning on any note.  Chords/arpeggios may be in inversions.

Feb. 18-Feb. 24: Happy Chinese New Year!

Yellow River Piano Concerto - based on the Yellow River Cantata by Xian Xinghai

February 16th was the day of Chinese New Year, and this week we'll explore a piece whose background has firm roots in China's history. In 1939, during the Sino-Japanese War, came the composition of the original Yellow River Cantata. Years later, it was revitalized and arranged into a four movement piano concerto. It highlights the importance of the Yellow River, one of the longest rivers in Asia, as a symbol of strength during the time in which the Chinese were fighting the war against the Japanese. The segment you will hear below is the "Song of the Yellow River Boatmen" which emphasizes the turbulent waves of the river.


  • What elements of the music do you think make it sound like you are travelling down a violent river?

Feb. 4-Feb. 10: Rachmaninoff Concerto no. 2

S. Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto no. 2, III. Allegro Scherzando (Excerpt)

As you heard at the recital this weekend, we performed an excerpt of Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto no. 2 on two pianos.  However, a concerto is written for soloist and orchestra.  As you can imagine, the sound of a full orchestra is very different from a piano.  Listen to the same excerpt from Saturday played by the incredible world class pianist, Evgeny Kissin.  Notice the differences as all the instruments of the orchestra come together to create a magical sound world.



  • Which version do you prefer (2 piano vs orchestra/piano) and why?
  • There is a beautiful melody played multiple times in this excerpt.  The first time (32:58-33:53), it is played by the piano with the orchestra accompanying.  The second time (36:20-37:24), the theme is played by the orchestra with piano accompanying.  Which one did you like more and why?
  • What do you imagine when listening to this melody?  Is it different with the piano playing it vs the orchestra?

Jan. 28-Feb.3: Mary Had a Little Lamb

In this video, we hear Nahre Sol play a tune we have all heard in many fresh new ways! She plays the melody in the style of many different composers in chronological order from the Baroque Era (1700's) to composers living now.  With a basic understanding of the harmonies being used in music, you can begin to explore new ways to play your music as well!


  • What composer was your favourite style in this video?  Why did you like that style?
  • What are some ways the music changes as time moves on?

Jan. 21-Jan. 27: Polyphonic Piano Playing

There are 3 different textures in music: monophonic, homophonic, and polyphonic.  For this week's listening activity, we will explore polyphony in music.

Polyphonic texture exists when there are 2 or more melodies playing simultaneously - and yes, we can play more than 2 melodies on the piano at once!  As you can imagine, managing multiple melodies can be quite difficult.  As a student, we begin by exploring 2 part Inventions in elementary levels, 3 part sinfonias, and eventually, Fugues, which can have 4 voices at once!  Polyphony is piano music was at its peak in the Baroque Era, when composers such as Bach, Scarlatti, and Handel.

Enjoy this week's piece, a fugue based on Happy Birthday!


  • What are some challenges of playing polyphonic music on the piano?
  • How does the Happy Birthday theme develop throughout?
  • What do you think monophonic and homophonic textures are?

Jan. 14-Jan. 20: Waltz of the Flowers

P. Tchaikovsky, Waltz of the Flowers

Waltz of the Flowers is an orchestral piece composed by Tchaikovsky.  It is from the second act of his ballet, The Nutcracker.

Visualization is a very important technique in music - it can assist in many things, from preparing for performance on stage, how to physically play the piano, or how to phrase the music you play.  Connecting visual experiences to music helps us to seek out effective musical intentions - for example, deciding how to phrase or what dynamics to use.  We do not phrase simply for the sake of doing so, or only because it is written in the music.  We must seek further meaning - why we should play this way?  We can crescendo to create a momentary sensation of floating, such as the ping pong ball bouncing upwards (seen at 1:45).  We can adjust dynamics and push the tempo to create a sense of danger and suspense (seen in the video shortly after). 

 It is nice to see this creative visual take on music - I found it very enjoyable and hope you enjoy as much as I did!


  • Were there any visuals in this video that enhanced the musical experience for you?  (Excluding the ping pong ball/sense of danger discussed in the description) What were they and why did they enhance your listening experience?
  • Look at some of the musical decisions (phrasing, dynamics, articulation) in the pieces you are working on now.  What are some visuals that connect to this way of playing the music?  Why does playing in such a way enhance the music?

Jan. 7-Jan 13: Happy New Year!

Happy New Year and welcome to another new year of listening activities!  Here is a fun new years performance by Russian pianist, Denis Matsuev.  He begins with a little tune you may have heard before, then weaves it into many famous pieces of music.  For any parents listening along, you may catch a small snippet of the iconic Nokia ringtone in a waltz-like style near the beginning.  Enjoy!


  • Although the main theme sounds different in each variation, you can tell that it is still there.  Describe a few ways the theme changes throughout.  How does it sound different?
  • One of the four pieces below was not used in Matsuev's performance.  Can you tell which one?  You only need to listen to a little bit of the opening of each one to tell.





Dec. 17-Dec. 23: Merry Christmas!

Christmas is right around the corner!  This will be the last listening activity this year.  Listening activities will return the 2nd week of January 2018.  Be prepared to learn about many new pieces and answer the questions along with it at each lesson!  For now, enjoy this fun little Christmas video.  Ragtime pianist on YouTube, Jonny May, plays 8 different Christmas Songs in 6 different styles...under a minute!  Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year - Enjoy!

Dec. 3-Dec.9: Guitar vs Piano

Isaac Albeniz is a spanish composer who lived from 1860-1909.  Many of his compositions became major works for the guitar, though he never composed for the instrument.  Asturias (Leyenda) is popular piece which is performed on piano as well as guitar.  A few challenges of this piece include some tricky leaps which must be played accurately without changing the rhythm (slowing down or stopping) as well as repeated notes.  Both the piano and guitar versions are included for your enjoyment!

I. Albeniz, Asturias (Leyenda)


  • Which version do you prefer and why?
  • What do you think would be some important things to keep in mind when playing fast repeated notes or gigantic leaps?


  • Set your metronome at 80 bpm.  How many repeated notes can you play per beat while maintaining clarity and evenness?
  • Try playing some leaps on your piano.  What is the biggest leap you can consistently play accurately?

Nov. 26-Dec. 2: Chaconne

T. A. Vitali, Chaconne in G minor

This piece is composed for violin and orchestra, with recordings lasting about 10 minutes.  Have a seat and enjoy the video along with the piece - it is like watching a mini movie. The creator of this video has added visuals that go along with the music, creating a dramatic story of tragedy and rebirth


  • Imagine you are creating your own movie along with this piece of music.  What would the storyline be? Describe some key scenes to go along with certain parts of the music.