Archive for July, 2012


How The Star Spangled Banner Was Written

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012
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The Star Spangled Banner which was a poem written by Francis Scott Key would eventually go on to become the National Anthem of the United States of America. It is said that the poem was not written to become a song but a counter opinion exist that popular songs of the era had actually lead Francis Scott Key to lay an indication of the piano music that can complement the song.

Francis Scott Key, a professional lawyer was not known as a poet or someone with a literary bent of mind until he witnessed the bombarding of Fort McHenry in 1812 by the British Royal Navy in Chesapeake Bay. It was his experience of witnessing the crumbling of the port to the severe brutality of the British ships amidst which an American flag (a small storm flag to be precise with fifteen stars and fifteen stripes) was seen flying atop the fort. Unaware of the fate of the battle, Francis envisioned of American victory symbolized by the flying flag, which came to be known as the Star Spangled Banner Flag. Francis did not write the poem until 1814 when he was one of the two men carrying a flag of truce prior to the Battle of Baltimore.

Several patriotic songs have been composed using the poem penned by Key ever since and they were sung and performed on different occasions at places all around the country. The Star Spangled Banner song that eventually became the National Anthem of America had its tune composition similar to a British tune of ‘The Anacreontic Song’ composed by John Stafford Smith.

The Star Spangled Banner song is regarded as one of the most difficult songs to sing due to its variance and the difficult octaves. Since the lyrics were originally penned as poetry, the meter and composition was not as convenient as normal lyrics of the era was. Although Francis Scott Key had indicated that the poem was to be turned into a song yet the piano music or the sheet music would become one of the most unique in its class in those times.
The poem and the subsequent song were not officially recognized as the National Anthem of the US until March 3, 1931 when President Herbert Hoover signed the congressional resolution. Today, the song is not always performed in its full length and in most cases, only the first stanza is used in major public events.

Learn to play 8 patriotic songs on the piano – fully arranged! Click here: http://www.playpiano.com/patriotic/
Star Spangled Banner

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One thing you can do with a pentatonic scale…

Monday, July 30th, 2012
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There are many uses for a pentatonic scale and here is one of those uses. Of course you know that a pentatonic scale is composed of just 5 notes – the root, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th of a major scale. In the key of C that would be C, D, E, G, and A. In the key of Eb it would be Eb, F, G, Bb and C. In the key of Gb you would simply use all the black keys – Gb, Ab, Bb, Db, and Eb.

Watch this short video to get an idea of one thing you can do with it:

If you are interested in learning to improvise, be sure to check out this great resource: http://www.playpianocatalog.com/piano-improvising.html

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“Yankee Doodle”

Friday, July 20th, 2012
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“Yankee Doodle” is a patriotic song that everyone in America knows and loves. Most people will know some things about the song, but there are other things about the song that are not common knowledge. Most people will know that “Yankee Doodle” is a very popular patriotic song that has been featured in some older patriotic movies. Some may even know that the song is the official song for the state of Connecticut. That is where the common knowledge of the song will end for most. Let us look at some of the things that probably are not commonly known about Yankee Doodle.

For most people they will not know that the origins of this song are British. During the American Revolution British soldiers created this song to make fun of American soldiers. The origins of the song come from English folk music; in the case of “Yankee Doodle” it was meant to be a humorous song. This song was actually created by British soldiers prior to the American Revolution as a means of mocking American soldiers. The word “Yankee” began as a slang term poking fun at the American soldiers, and people in general. The word “Doodle” was also derogatory and meant that the person was a simpleton.

When the Americans started to take control of the war they also took control of the song. They would start to sing the song anytime they were within earshot of British soldiers. They sang the song proudly as a means of taunting the British. The earliest known reference to “Yankee Doodle” is seen as early as 1767 when it was performed in an opera called “The Disappointment.” It was also printed in 1775; in this printing the song was again used in a derogatory manner to mock an Army official from Massachusetts. In these early days the song had no music; it was sang or chanted to various tunes.

It is not known who created the original words or music for the song. This is probably due to the fact that a number of common people made the original words, and they were changed or added to over the years. What is known, as stated by the Library of Congress, is that our version of “Yankee Doodle” was written in 1755 by a doctor from England named Dr. Shackburg.

Over the years, since it was extremely popular, the song lent itself to newer versions with words being added, subtracted, or changed to fit the situation. During Civil War times, both the North and the South had their own versions of the song. Each side used the song to mock the other side. Although “Yankee Doodle” was a song meant to mock Americans in the beginning, it has become a song that now symbolizes American pride.

As we mentioned before, the song has been changed and adapted for use in many different ways. It has been performed by bands, in theater, movies, and many other venues. It is considered the most lighthearted and fun of all of our patriotic songs; it is sung by many people, although they may only remember a verse or two of the song.

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“You’re A Grand Old Flag”

Thursday, July 5th, 2012
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The Story Of “You’re A Grand Old Flag”

American Patriotic Songs

George M. Cohan’s meeting with a war veteran encouraged him to write a song which soon went on to become a Broadway hit, and a household name, a few years later. “You’re a Grand Old Flag” was, and is, that song. This son rejoices the old glory, magnificence and that it stood, and stands for. With catchy lyrics and a catchy lilt, the song refers a patriotic march.

One day, George M. Cohan found himself standing next to a civil war veteran of the Battle of Gettysburg. He noticed that this man was holding a neatly-folded American flag but that was a bit scruffy looking. The veteran said to him, “She’s a grand old rag”.

This line triggered an idea in Cohan’s brain and he wrote a song using this line. But he faced consternation from people. This was due to the term ‘rag’. People felt that this term was an insult to the Stripes and the Stars and they want it to be taken off from the lyrics. Hence, Cohan changed the term to ‘flag’ from ‘rag’, and the rest, as its said, is an American musical history.

Cohan wrote the song in 1906 for his play ‘George Washington Jr.’, which was premiered at the Herald Square in New York on February 6, 1906. The play featured Cohan, who played the role of a U.S. politician’s son who loves a simple girl from southern States. But his father has altered aims – he wants his son to be linked up with an English woman of their prominence. The entire story is about their battle to attain two very different goals.

Both the song ‘You’re a Grand Old Flag’ and the play were greeted with a huge success. Over the time, the tune moved the Broadway to living rooms because of records and mass music sales. It was the first stage musical that went on to sell over one million copies.

‘You’re a Grand Old Flag’ induces feelings of patriotism and it uplifts people hearing it. The tune is positive and bright. This tune was played on every family piano all across the country.

George M. Cohan was not just only a songwriter. In his career, he also wore the hats of composer, playwright, singer, actor, director, producer and librettist. He was born in the year 1878 in Providence, Rhode Island. Both his parents were stage performers who always travelled around the country. George, along with his elder sister Josephine, also traveled with them. The family kept up a busy tour schedule along with the B.F.Keith Circuits and thumped out around four to five performances a day.

His inspiration and popularity as a real American entertainer gave rise to a film on his life. The film was called ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’. It showed his upsurge from his vaudeville or burlesque days to the Broadway success when he earned the signature “The Man Who Owned Broadway”.

Today, the Broadway tunes are a lot different from what it was in Cohan’s time, but they still owe a great debt of gratitude to this songwriter and his musicals.

Click here for a great course in Playing & Arranging American Patriotic Songs

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What in the world are “rhythmical undernotes”? How can I use them?

Monday, July 2nd, 2012
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What in the world are “rhythmical undernotes”? How can I use them? Watch this short video and you’ll see:

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