When I first visited Maui in October 1999, I got caught off-guard by an unexpected knock at the door.
Kids in a variety of costumes eagerly chanted in treble unison, “Trick or treat!?!”
In a panic, I called my sister who was changing in the bathroom.
I was unprepared for Halloween. Living in London at the time, I had not participated in this annual event since I was a trick-or-treater back on Okinawa. Later I learned that Halloween is one of the most celebrated occasions in Hawaii.
When my sister didn’t respond, I improvised.
I played a sweet little tune on the Hamilton upright piano hoping to placate or appease. Instead, it caused a frown on their faces.
The bathroom door suddenly flung open.
“That’s not the way to do it!” my sister exclaimed and shoved me aside.
She dove into the opening passage of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto with a fervor. I was impressed, but clearly the trick-or-treaters were not.
From then on, I decided that I really must hide on 31st October, for I don’t believe in giving out candies and a musical treat clearly isn’t well-accepted here.
Nonetheless, my piano students may appreciate a little treat from Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite. “In the Hall of the Mountain King” starts in the low register of the piano and stays low. It’s staccato throughout and for the most part, predictably repetitive.
For most beginners, it’s hard to read the bass clef, let alone two bass clefs. For pianists in general, it’s hard to read ledger (or leger) lines. It’s much easier to read the ottava lines:
- 15mb for 2 octaves below what’s written (and appears below the staff)
- 8vb for one octave below what’s written (and appears below the staff)
- 8va for one octave above what’s written (and appears above the staff)
- 15ma for one octave above what’s written (and appears above the staff)
As I tell my piano class: when you see a new piece of music, don’t jump into it.
1) First analyze the piece. Look for repetition, patterns that you see over and over again. This will help familiarize yourself with the piece and thereby reduce your anxiety.
2) Get your starting hand position right. Don’t move your hands until you have to. Put finger markings in. This is more important than writing the letter names of the notes.
In Grieg’s piece, you can see that the left hand is a series of perfect fifth interval movements, equidistant and very predictable. I would start by getting the left hand correct. Practice that first and then move onto the right hand. Practice very slowly. Don’t expect to get to the metronome markings — it’s way too fast!
Download the 3-page PDF of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” for easy reading by pianists.