Archive for April, 2012


Gospel Music: Some of the Most Popular Songs

Friday, April 27th, 2012
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With such a rich history supporting it, it’s difficult to pick a list of the best gospel songs. Any attempt to claim being the definitive list will no doubt meet spirited debate. That’s why a “top-ten”, or whatever other size list, is fun to create. They encourage debate and give fans a chance to add their own favorites to the discussion. It proves how popular gospel music is worldwide.

Songwriters compose gospel music to convey a personal or a community way of thinking regarding their Christian beliefs. The styles of gospel music vary as much as the creators of it do. That’s why it has such a diverse audience. Today, there’s gospel music targeted to the younger set. In addition, there are adult contemporary as well as the traditional offerings.

Regardless of the styles that are out there, a canon of standard popular gospel songs does exist. The following are some of the songs that traditionally make it onto a list of the most popular songs in the gospel genre. You will probably recognize many of them.

Amazing Grace

John Newton, an Englishman wrote the lyrics to this song. It first appeared in print in 1779 in Newton’s Olney Hymns. A plethora of artists from decade to decade has performed their versions of this much-loved work. The music of the song is a variant of an earlier written tune called “New Britain.”

Because He Lives

Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote this gospel song in 1970. Their inspiration for this song was the birth of healthy son Benjamin that year.

Daddy Sang Bass

Carl Perkins wrote this tune in 1968. Johnny Cash recorded the song that year and it went to number one on the charts. It enjoyed a several month stay there. It still enjoys consideration as a beloved gospel song to this day.

Peace in the Valley

Thomas A. Dorsey, originally wrote Peace in the Valley in 1939. He wrote it for Mahalia Jackson. The song was a hit for Red Foley and the Sunshine Boys in 1951.

Just a Little Talk with Jesus

This song is also a cherished gospel favorite. The likes of Brenda Lee, The Oak Ridge Boys, and Loretta Lynn have their versions of this song. In addition, so do The Statler Brothers and Elvis Presley.

Wings of a Dove

Bob Ferguson wrote this gospel song in1958. It became his first multi-million seller song. Ferlin first recorded the song, and a host of artists has since recorded it in many languages. In 1987, Wings of a Dove received BMI’s “One million airplays” Award.

How Great Thou Art

This song is a Christian hymn based on a Swedish poem written by Carl Gustav Boberg. Elvis Presley performed this piece, as did Tennessee Ernie Ford, Roy Rogers, and Connie Smith.

I Saw the Light

In 1948, Hank Williams Sr. wrote and first performed this gospel song. Crystal Gayle, Jerry Reed, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Earl Scruggs, and Hank Williams Jr. have also set forth their renditions of this popular tune.

Oh Happy Day

Oh Happy Day is a gospel arrangement of an 18th century hymn, composed in 1967. The Edwin Hawkins Singers recorded it and in 1969, it became an international hit.

Just a Closer Walk With Thee

The first known recording of this gospel song was on October 8, 1941. The performers were the Selah Jubilee Singers. The song is one of the more popular ones to find use in the hymn and dirge section of jazz funerals in New Orleans.

Gospel songs are a way for devotees to manifest their deep spiritual feelings. They’re also the backdrop for celebrations, services, ceremonies and the like in the Christian community. It’s easy for a sheet of gospel music, a piano player, and a piano, to get a group of people singing whole-heartedly. That’s the beauty of this type of music.

The above list is a representation of those deemed in the upper echelon of favorites. The most popular songs of all time in gospel music certainly inspire a legion of fans. You may have your own favorites to add to the list as well. With more gospel music recorded each year, the list will continue to be one of variety and change.

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Piano Practice: From Hate To Love In One Evening!

Thursday, April 26th, 2012
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I started taking piano lessons when I was about 6 or 7 from an old lady (at least she looked old to me) named Mrs. Graham.  She lived in the older section of town, and her house smelled old. I dutifully sat through lesson after lesson and practiced each lesson for a half-hour a day. Not because I wanted to, but because I was fortunate enough to have parents that kept my feet to the fire, telling me that “someday I will be glad I kept practicing”. I didn’t believe them, of course — it’s pretty hard for a seven-year old to visualize why practicing scales and boring songs would pay off down the road.

And so it went, week after week, month after month, year after year until I was about 13. I liked playing the piano well enough, but I sure didn’t like practicing. One time when I was nine or so my big brother wrote up a contract about practicing 1/2 hour ever day which he made me sign. If I didn’t, he wouldn’t help me with my baseball skills, which I desparately wanted to develop. My idols in those days were not pianists or musicians, but the great baseball players of the day — Joltin’ Joe Dimagio, Whitey Ford, Phil Rissuto, and of course Mickey Mantle. I dreamed about hiting – driving in runs in the last of the 9th inning with the bases loaded.

But one day a friend of mine who also took piano lessons invited me to go with his family down to Sacramento (we lived in a little town called Auburn, 30 miles from Sacto) to hear a famous jazz pianist. I didn’t even know what jazz piano sounded like back then, but it’s always fun to go someplace with friends, so I went. I turned out that the pianist was Erroll Garner, and this is what I heard:

Suffice it to say that nothing was the same after that. I had no idea that anyone could play the piano like that, and have so much fun doing it! When I got home that evening I immediately went to the piano and started imitating Erroll. Of course it sounded awful, but it changed my view of practice 180 degrees. Instead of dreading practice, I looked forward to it to see what I could accomplish.

Can I play like Erroll? Of course not. Nowhere close. But it launched me into a lifetime of enjoying piano playing and helping others to enjoy it to.

If you have a teenager like me who hates to practice, try taking him or her to a concert. It might just make a huge difference in his life.

For over 300 free videos in some aspect of piano playing, go to my YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/chordsgalore

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The Top Ten Most Popular Children’s Songs of All Time

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012
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Children’s songs can bring back all kinds of nostalgia from days gone by. New children’s songs are written by the hundreds every year. Despite this, the classics are still as popular as when we were kids. Ten of the most popular children’s songs of all time are:

1) Happy Birthday: You’d be very hard pressed to find a kid who doesn’t know this one. Happy Birthday is popular the world over even though it’s a special-occasion song. Penned by schoolteacher-sisters Patty Hill and Mildred J. Hill, its original title and lyrics were “Good Morning to You.” They wrote it specifically for their young students as a simple greeting song in 1893. Several years later their tune appeared in print wedded with the words “Happy Birthday.”

2) Ring Around the Rosies: Rumor has it that this popular children’s song with accompanying circle dance/game had rather macabre beginnings. However, it really can’t be said with full certainty that this song refers to the bubonic plague, or the Great Plague of London. What is certain is that various versions of this song are sung in some form in numerous countries worldwide. The dance seems to be same no matter where the song is sung. Children hold hands and dance in a circle. They all fall down at the end just as the lyrics state.

3) Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes: This ditty for very young children has ambiguous origins. It was likely written by a teacher or someone of the like who worked with children. It was probably meant to help teach small kids basic body anatomy while at the same time encouraging action and dancing. The words are simple but effective. It’s still used by teachers today to help kids “get the wiggles out.”

4) London Bridge: This is another popular children’s song with origins difficult to pinpoint. It’s been around, at least in poem form, since a printing of an early version in 1744. It refers to the famous bridge over the River Thames in London. The accompanying actions call for two partners to hold both hands and raise them high in an arch. Children sing the song as they duck under the “arches” as they gradually lower, until the end when one child gets “caught.”

5) The Itsy Bitsy Spider (or, The Eensy Weensy Spider): Conflicting stories of its origin abound, and the author’s name may be lost from history forever. It is commonly said to have been written in the 1950’s or 60’s. However, references to versions of this poem and finger-play go back even further. Today it’s a favorite song and finger play in preschools and kindergartens around the world.

6) Old MacDonald Had a Farm: This popular children’s song was probably derived from a World War I era songbook tune called “Old MacDougal Had a Farm.” The MacDougal version may have already been around for several years by the time it appeared in print in 1917. It’s a mystery when “MacDougal” became “MacDonald.” Nevertheless, young children love this song about barnyard animals.

7) Mary Had a Little Lamb: Few people are aware that this popular children’s song was inspired by a true story. Sara Josepha Hale wrote her poem in 1830 about a little girl named Mary who brought her pet lamb to school. (Some historians believe that the concept and first four lines actually came from the pen of John Roulstone. This has been difficult to prove or disprove over the years.) It caused a commotion, as one might expect. Today young children still giggle over the idea of a lamb coming to school.

8) Rock-a-Bye Baby: This old lullaby has likely been crooned by many a mother over several centuries. Its exact origin is unknown, and several theories abound. One of the most plausible theories is that the song is based on native American tradition. Mothers placed their babies in birch-bark cradles suspended from branches. Babies were lulled to sleep by the force of the wind. Woe to the baby who gets caught in a big wind that breaks the branch though!

9) Five Little Monkeys: This action song, like many other popular children’s songs, has origins difficult to trace. This doesn’t seem to matter to schoolchildren who have sung it for several decades. The silly poem set to music is an ideal way to get children dancing, moving, and even thinking about the consequences of jumping on the bed.

10) The Hokey Pokey: Children have participated in this song and dance for over one hundred years. No one is certain where the term “Hokey Pokey” comes from, though there are a few theories. It’s highly plausible that it was simply a nonsensical term meant to make the listener laugh. It might be compared to a square dance, in that the “leader” or “caller” gets to call the moves to the dance.

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Rock & Roll Piano Music: Can You Learn To Play It?

Monday, April 23rd, 2012
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Do you have a Whitesnake, Brett Micheals style bandana? How about an Elton John pair of glasses or a white sequined glove from your Michael Jackson, Billy Jean days? Maybe you were more of a metal guy and bashed a few guitars while listening to some Motley Crew? Rock on, Dude!!!

Since the world can call all music played by an orchestra, “classical” music, let’s call all music played on the radio, that is popular, has guitars, drums, and a lead singer, and lots of amps “rock” music. (Highly generalized descriptions that aren’t very accurate but they represent the general consensus.)

What is Rock and Roll Music?

If our largely inaccurate explanation above of what makes rock and roll music will spark controversy among just about everybody, what is a better way to look at rock and roll? First, understand that Rock and Roll, just like Jazz and Baroque music is its own unique style of music and it is no less scholarly than any other style. Musicologists (yes, they exist) study rock and roll just as they do every other style so contrary to what some believe, it is not the black sheep of the musical world. (Rap music is a source of scholarly research as well, by the way)

One interesting fact to realize is that although many regard rock and roll as the poor man’s music, that has never been true. We can go all the way back to the Baroque period (and even further back) when music was written as something to dance to. That “classical” music that you may find boring was, at one time, the rock and roll of its day. Later, violinists like Niccolo Paganini were so good that many thought he was from the Devil. (Because people didn’t believe any human could play a violin as well as he did) Because the bad boy often has a following, Paganini was a hugely famous musician of his day. That fame came with all of the same public response as modern artists like Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber get today. (Or fill in the most popular artists of the day as you’re reading this.) Paganini was the rockstar of his day.

Rock and roll has its formal roots in the 1930s and 1940s as a melding of blues, gospel, jazz, and just about anything else that people could put together. Chuck Berry gets credit for making rock and roll wildly popular in the 1960s but when we think of rock and roll, who is the first to come to mind? For most, its Elvis Presley. Who could forget famous songs like “You Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hound dog” (The song is actually called “Hound Dog”. Elvis Remade it in 1956.)

From the 1960s, Rock and Roll has always been part of American music in some form. Even now, in 2011, artists like Avril Lavigne, Rhianna, and numerous lesser known although very popular rock and grunge bands keep the style alive. It could easily be argued that every piece of music on the radio (or Pandora, or ITunes, or wherever you’re listening to your music) has its roots in the rock and roll style of 50 years ago.

Can I Rock Out on a Piano?

Sure you can. In early Rock and Roll, the piano was the lead instrument. As it evolved, the guitar became the main instrument but how many ballads have you heard that are piano led? How many rock bands don’t have a keyboard in the setup?

Another interesting fact about rock and roll is that it’s largely a product of the earliest composers. Every rock and roll musician has masters like Bach to thank because he and many others of his time solidified the rules of how chords work together to make music and those same rules are followed by rock musicians now.

For the pianist who wants to play rock and roll, chord reading is a must. One great thing about rock and roll is that although the style varies widely, the mechanics behind it are normally quite simple. Many of the best known songs may only have 3 or 4 different chords and those chords are often basic. The best music is often the simplest and rock and roll is proof of that.

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Piano Pedaling & Musical Dynamics: Two Simple Ways To Improve Rapidly

Saturday, April 21st, 2012
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There are many ways to improve your piano playing, but most of them entail lots of study and practice. But there are two ways you can improve right away just by being aware of them — pedaling and dynamics. Watch this short video and you will understand immediately:

For a detailed course on the subject, click here: Piano Pedaling & Music Dynamics

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