Bartok, For Children Vol. I, Play-Along: Post Seven (Nos. 36-40 Reaction)

Here we are. The final homestretch!  How many of you made it this far, as of this writing (Feb. 28, 2015)?  Even if you’re reading this at a later date, I hope you’ve had a chance to read all 40 pieces from Vol. I and that you discovered some new and interesting aspects about Bartok’s piano writing.  I know I did.  If you haven’t yet had a chance to read the entire set, please start HERE, move along at your own pace, and feel free to comment with your own observations/questions in the Comments section below.  There’s no absolute close to a Play-Along. Jump in anytime!

Quick-scan observations about Nos. 36-40:

  • All pieces are I (Intermediate) to LI (Late Intermediate) in level.
  • Continued use of variations form – A A’
  • Melody in the RH as usual, but two pieces incorporate melody in the LH
  • Extended range for both hands, with more LH involvement overall.
  • Continued use of chords to create a richer texture – either broken chords or 3 or 4-note blocked chords
  • Melodic figuration becomes more intricate with part-writing and voice leading concerns.
  • More virtuosity appears with dramatic differences in dynamics and tempi (EX:  extended cresc. or dim.; accelerando)

No. 36  – Drunkard’s Song

This is Nos. 34 through 36 played as a set (as intended).  Scroll to 1:03 for No. 36 only.  Effective student performance.

Impressions While Playing:  This piece is one of the faster and more aggressive pieces seen so far in the set.  It’s also one of the richest in texture, with bolder dynamics and a wide range.  There’s only one measure of “calm” –m. 14 (with rallentando).

Teaching Value:  At this writing, I’m currently teaching Nos. 34, 35, and 36 as a set to a 10-year old boy at intermediate level.  He decided to start with this piece which was the one that instantly attracted him.  Despite the controversial title, I could see how a boy would be attracted to the masculine sound of this work.  The playing involved is bold and showy and yet it’s a short work that could be mastered in a relatively short amount of time.  It requires good control of the quick, rhythmic 4-note chords (mm. 3-4) and a student would need to prep for quick hand position changes throughout.  I like the fact that Bartok included all types of accents, tenutos, plus staccato and very specific pedalling indications — a lot for the student to take in and absorb.

Take Note:  Once again Bartok utilizes his favorite variations form seen so far in many of the pieces — A A’.  I really enjoyed his re-harmonization of the tune the second time.  His use of the C9 harmony in m. 9 creates depth and much different mood with the Key of B-flat Major at the center rather than the previous G minor.  I intend to discuss Bartok’s variation in harmony as my student gets his head wrapped around the notes.  If he can i.d. harmonies (chords), it will make it much easier for him to memorize the piece.

Recommended For:  An intermediate student who likes bold, outward playing with high impact in just 20 measures of time.

Correlates To:  Faber Piano Adventures mid-Level 4 or higher (I)

No. 37  – Swine-herd’s Song

Impressions While Playing:  Another boisterous piece in the key of G minor, but it feels faster than No. 36 due to the moving eighth notes. I haven’t noticed so much quick LH work in any of the previous pieces and that was refreshing. I liked hearing the tidbits of G Major (mm. 12, 26-27) which added levity to the mostly minor mode.

Teaching Value:  I asked a couple of students (ages 9-11) what a “swine-herd” was and they hesitated and had to think on it some. I asked them about “swine” and then it all started to make sense, but admittedly they said they hadn’t heard of a swine-herd before.  I told them that Bartok must have seen several because he refers to them more than once in his piano pieces.

This is an excellent etude in quick 2-note slurred groups with a workout in doubled notes as well.  Quite tricky as the hands often move in opposed directions.  Independence of each hand is a must for efficiency in achieving the final tempo. Once again, Bartok is great at providing specifics on fingering.

Take Note:  Again Bartok uses a simple form:  LINE 1:  A + B phrases  LINE 2:  C + B’ phrases.  He then just re-iterates particular 4 mm. phrases using different harmonies.

Similar to No. 36, he incorporates a fast-moving section (Coda) for a driving close to the piece.

Recommended For:  A student who would like a short technical challenge that’s impressive, skill-building, yet short.

Correlates To:  Faber Piano Adventures Level 5 or higher (Late Int.) – due to tempo and extensive LH figuration

No. 38  – Winter Solstice Song

Impressions While Playing:  A busy, but cheerful ostinato work.  It’s commonly taught and very appealing to students because of the overall cresc./dim. contained within.  The final crescendo blast of a Coda is fun.  The tempo of 160 seems fast but the non-legato effect can be easily handled at this tempo with bounces from the wrist.  If often refer to this motion as “shaking it out of your sleeve.”

Teaching Value:  I’ve taught this piece on a couple of previous occasions.  Students are drawn to the pervasive LH ostinato and the effect of both hands “pouncing” all over the place. It’s also an excellent listening exercise as the piece gradual gains volume and then gradually decreases.  What makes it a bit intricate is Bartok’s very specific indications for accents and tenuto.  I spend most of my time getting students to realize this differences quite precisely.  And once again, variations form here with a Coda.

Take Note:  Did you notice a few other details by Bartok?  — 1.  m. 5 – how he indicates the use of both RH fingers 1 and 2 for the low F.  This creates a much sturdier marked effect.  2.  The use of marcatissimo in m. 53 increasing to a ff rather than the usual marcato seen in mm. 5 and 88.  I often tell my students to beware of making too quick of a dim. on page 2.  They often arrive at m. 71 too quietly.

Recommended For:  Someone who needs needs to come out of his/her shell a bit and get creative with gradual sound build-up and decay.

Correlates To:  Faber Piano Adventures latter part of Level 4 or higher  (Late Int.) – due to the non-legato, a technique which may be unfamiliar to some intermediate-level students.

No. 39 – Untitled (Allegro moderato)

Impressions While Playing:  This is very sophisticated writing. How often do pieces start with a LH melody so low on the piano? And how often do both hands get to play the melody three 8ves apart (see m.9).  Bartok creates somewhat of a chilling effect here.  For this entire piece, he simply variates an 8-mm theme until the final Coda in m. 63, but he does so in such an interesting way each time.  How could a player ever get bored?  He even includes an accel. variation!  Yippee! Permission to rush on purpose….;-)

Teaching Value: The more I play this piece, the more I think young students would really enjoy it, but I believe it would require a very effective demo performance to sell them on the idea of learning it.  What a great piece for teaching expression, mood, character, and balance!

Take Note:  The recording above is acceptable as a demo for a student, but I do think the performer pauses a bit too often.  I also think the accel. should gradually increase and arrive right at the Presto section at tempo = 138  without any pausing.  The transition into the Presto would be much smoother and effective in my opinion.  Did you notice the 4 different tempo indications in this short work?

Recommended For:  A highly-imaginative student who would find it interesting to “dress up” a theme and bring all the variations to life in different ways.

Correlates To:  Faber Piano Adventures mid – Level 4 or higher  (I)

No. 40 – Swine-herd’s Dance

Impressions While Playing: Again, like the Winter Solstice Song above, I’ve had a few late intermediate students select this Bartok piece for study, especially after I play a demo or if they hear a recording.  It contains the same gradual cresc./dim effect through the course of the piece.  Plus a PPPP at the end.  Students love that!  The pervasive pedal tones in the LH also give the piece constant energy which makes it sound vibrant even when it’s rather quiet in dynamic.  It truly does sound like a flute in the RH and dance-like with its syncopated rhythms.

Teaching Value:  Rhythmically, this piece is a treasure. It’s filled with rhythmic variance and syncopation, but it’s the details in articulation (RH) that must be present in order to characterize the flute and Bartok is again so particular and precise about what he wants.  This is an excellent tool for getting students to plan, play slowly, and listen closely to what they are doing in the RH.  I did that this week in a lesson with a student who discovered he had ignored ALL or most of the 2-note slurs!, some of which involved  two very quick 16ths.

Take Note:  You’ll see in the notes in the back of the Boosey & Hawkes edition that this piece and the No. 37 Swine-herd’s Song are derived from portions of a folk flute tune.  In the YouTube recording above you’ll hear Bartok’s cylinder recording of the peasant flutist playing the tune.  Quite interesting…..I had not heard one of Bartok’s collected recordings before.  I plan to play this video for my student as proof!

Recommended For:  A student who likes fast finger work, but who might need to dig into details (like mine!)

Correlates To:  Faber Piano Adventures latter part of Level 4 or higher (LI)

This concludes our Play-Along for Bartok’s “For Children, Vol. I”.  Congratulations to you if you read through them all and thanks for your patience in receiving my reactions.  What a feat!  But totally enjoyable for me.  Please post your comments below.  I’d love to hear your reactions to things you’ve never realized about Bartok’s piano writing.  I have a final Bartok wrap-up which I’ll post  in few days.  Until the Play-Along!


Bartok, For Children Vol. I, Play-Along: Post Six (Nos. 31-35 Reaction)

Thanks for your patience in receiving this set of observations.  I’ve fallen down on the job by 2 weeks!  ‘Tis the season for a multitude of piano contests, theory exams, and festivals.  I’m sure you feel the same pain from what seems to be endless preparation…..

It seems like this particular set of five pieces has taken a turn in a different direction.  I noticed some interesting characteristics in Bartok’s writing here which I haven’t observed in the previous pieces.  How about you?  More on this below.

Quick-scan observations about Nos. 31-35:    

  • All pieces are I (Intermediate) level.
  • Continued use of variations form – A A’
  • Melody in the RH mostly.
  • The LH accompaniment has a more extended range now.
  • More frequent use of chords to create a richer texture – either broken chords or 3 or 4-note blocked chords
  • Bartok incorporates more pedaling than before.
  • He continues using 2 mm. and 3 mm. phrases throughout all.
  • Noticeable use of this syncopated rhythmic motif throughout — eighth note, followed by dotted-quarter, followed by half note.

No. 31  – Untitled (Andante tranquillo)

Impressions While Playing:  I returned to this rather haunting, plaintive piece several times to give it more playings, and each time I noticed something new.  It’s the first time in this set that Bartok has used more than 2 flats in the key signature, and also the key of F minor.  The F minor tonality adds a beautiful warm color to the sad melody.  There is definitely a tranquil effect about it as indicated.  I think it’s characterized through Bartok’s simple melody, disjunct phrasing (he uses 3-measure phrases in succession), pedal effects, F minor tonality, thin textures, etc.   It has a quite a Romantic feel which you don’t normally associate with Bartok.

Teaching Value:  This is a great lesson in phrasing for an intermediate student.  The main melodic theme (mm. 1 – 12) consists of 4 short phrases, each 3 mm. in length — 3 + 3 + 3 + 3.  You don’t encounter this phrase structure often.  Did you notice how the melodies in each 3 mm. phrase always end in half notes?

It gives the piece a sense of repose and calm, yet did you notice how each measure of the 3 mm. phrase comes to a stop at the end of the measure creating additional pause?

Despite all of this “stop and start,” a performer must carry the line towards the concluding half notes in the phrases (mm. 3, 6, 9, and 12). This is also a good piece for tonal control.  Notice that most of the piece is rather quiet, with the exception of one “mf” indication in m. 21.

Take Note:  Notice how the LH accompaniment creates a blended harmonic color through the use of broken chords held with the pedal. Bartok tells exactly where he would like you to depress the pedal.  Did you also catch Bartok’s “tie-downs” in the LH?  Each LH arpeggiation begins with a quarter note which must be held down.  If it isn’t held, you don’t hear the sustained effect in the harmony.  He’s so specific about the sounds he would like, isn’t he?

Recommended For:  A more mature intermediate student experienced in varied articulations and pedalling.  And one who knows how to direct a melodic line to a destination.

Correlates To:  Faber Piano Adventures Level 4 or higher (I)

No. 32  – Untitled (Andante ) Scroll to 1:38

Impressions While Playing: You can’t help but immediately notice the wide leaps in the LH – the widest keyboard range of all the pieces thus far.  What makes the leaps even more unusual is the fact that they begin on beats 2 and 4 and work opposite of the RH.  The pedal marks look rather erraticly-placed at times.  Bartok seems to implies that you change the pedal with every double note in the LH – lifting the foot when striking and depressing once the keys are down (syncopated pedaling).  Note that later he changes it to the opposite (see mm.16 -20 for example).  Overall, the pedaling requires some detailed attention here.

Teaching Value:  Besides the pedaling, this is an excellent piece for LH security. NOTE: Keep the LH moving laterally while shifting from high and low.  It’s much more efficient and the tones will remain more calm.   This is especially helpful in keeping its activity lessened during the quieter sections (see the last line).  I also think the wide assortment of dynamic changes (every 2-3 measures!) will certainly keep a student on his/her toes!

Take Note:  Did you happen to catch the harmonic conflict between major and minor in this piece?  You notice it in the opening ( F Major and F minor), but is seems that every time Bartok strongly resolves to F Major (see mm. 12 and 24), he shifts immediately to a minor mode in the next measure.  This piece takes on many harmonic colors.  Notice in m. 13, how the new pedal point in the bass (D), plus the new harmonies, really change the mood of the melody when it is repeated.  And then again, notice how the new pedal point in m. 25 (D-flat) gives the final snippet of the melody an even darker color.

Bartok Observation: So far in several of these pieces, Bartok’s go-to form for a piece is merely a repeat or two repeats of a single melodic theme. However, with each repeat his melody is always harmonized differently, sometimes only in slight subtle ways.  Your ear may not completely catch the difference upon a first listen to a recording, but if you play it you’ll definitely notice!

Recommended For:  A student who is already adept with the pedal,  and one who can dramatize the melancholic mood of this work.

Correlates To:  Faber Piano Adventures Mid – Level 4 or higher (I)

No. 33  – Untitled (Allegro non troppo) Scroll to 3:05

Impressions While Playing: This is one of the more well-known pieces from the latter part of Vol. I and odd as it is, students are drawn to it.   I played this as a child and recall how much I loved to play it over and over again.  I recall liking the wonky, gymnastic feel of the LH leaps in the opening theme and the contrast of the quiet B theme with the hands closer together (see m. 5).  But the inconclusive harmonies really catch your ear as well.  In which key is this piece, really?  I like how Bartok leaves you hanging on a PPP solitary E at the end…..huh?

Teaching Value:  The LH leaps are a perfect opportunity to practice stride-piano technique for sure.  Note how Bartok specifies accents only on the low notes.  I can already predict how students may play the chords too loudly, or worse yet, have a difficult time playing the chords on target.  Be sure to move the LH laterally from low to high rather than in an arc.  The closest distance to a target is via a straight line, right?

Take Note:  Technically this piece is only 10 measures long, correct?  The first 10 measures just repeat themselves with a different harmonization in the LH.  Easy, right?  But….learning and memorizing the two different LH accompaniments might be a little troublesome for some students since they are quite different even if mostly on the white keys.  Separating and learning the 2 different bass lines in a linear fashion should help.

Recommended For:  A student who has already had a little experience with a jumping LH accompaniment and who enjoys pieces with a gymnastic bent.

Correlates To:  Faber Piano Adventures Mid – Level 4 or higher (I)

No. 34  – Untitled (Allegretto)  Scroll to 3:56

Impressions While Playing: The opening two measures of this piece sound quite romantic in character, don’t they?  Then in m. 3, we’re back to rhythmic Bartok with vertical, strident chords played in a proclamatory style.  Though Bartok doesn’t indicate pedal, it sounds as if Mr. Jando does employ it in the recording above. I like the added, undetecteable pedaling for added resonance in this section.  The form consists of a simple A + B + A + B + A phrase grouping that is so brief it sounds like a mere introduction (hence the attacca into No. 35).

Teaching Value:  A great opportunity for double-note playing in both hands.  Sometimes the texture is 4-part and at times, 5-part.  Compare mm. 3-4 with 6-7 to notice again the subtle changes Bartok makes when repeating a melody, both in texture and harmony.  I would certainly discuss with a student how the piece shifts from a G minor opening to a feeling of E-flat major (m. 8) and then a slight resolution to E-flat minor (m. 13), only to return to G minor.  A singing soprano line in the upper fingers of the RH is a must.

Take Note:  Did you catch Bartok’s use of wide leaps in the LH here as well?  And similar to No. 32 he seems to have a penchant for this rhythm pattern:  eighth note, followed by dotted-quarter, followed by half note.

Recommended For:  A student with previous experience in 4-part texture and the ability to voice a soprano line quite clearly.

Correlates To:  Faber Piano Adventures Mid – Level 4 or higher (I)

No. 35  – Untitled (Con moto) Scroll to 4:32

Impressions While Playing:  The tempo moves along here after the attacca and Bartok retains the Key of G minor.  Again another brief piece in A + B (extended) + A + B + A form, but this time the more “romantic” theme is the B theme (mm. 3 – 9, then mm. 12-15).  The A and B themes are quite different in character from each other similar to No. 34 above, and also like No. 34, this piece ends with a poco rall. followed by two measures of a tempo which moves directly into the next attacca.Teaching Value:  If I were teaching this, I would definitely teach Nos. 34, 35, and 36 as a complete set.  It doesn’t make sense to isolate these movements.  In fact, as of this writing, I am teaching No. 36 to an intermediate student.  He loved the idea of an attacca and instantly asked to do all three after hearing them played one after the other.  I think their brevity was a plus.  Three one-page pieces for an intermediate student isn’t much to ask.

Take Note:  You can’t help but notice how the B theme (the more “romantic” theme with pedal – see m. 3) is written in 3/4 time.  This adds a nice sweeping lilt to the piece after such a straightforward, rhythmic opening.  A great opportunity to teach expressive phrasing here. Again, note the LH.  The wide leaps from before have returned.  The deep bass notes and expanded range between the hands add great depth and resonance which we haven’t seen in previous pieces

Recommended For:  A student with capricious flair who can mingle whimsy with grandeur.Correlates To:  Faber Piano Adventures Mid – Level 4 or higher (I)

* I enjoyed Mr. Jeno Jando’s interpretation of these 5 pieces in the videos above.  Tasteful and poignant in his expression.  

I look forward to teaching Nos. 34, 35, and 36 as a complete set over the next couple of months.  I’ll update this post with more explicit findings as the student progresses.


Bartok, For Children Vol. I, Play-Along: Post Four (Nos. 21 – 25 Reaction)

This was an interesting set.  I noticed some characteristics that I haven’t seen or heard before in the previous selections.  Disclaimer:  Please know that I do my best to find the better YouTube renderings of the pieces from this volume.  I often don’t have much of a selection to choose from and must default to whatever I consider the best available at the time. 

Quick-scan observations about Nos. 21-25 :    

  • All pieces are EI to I (Early Intermediate to Intermediate)  in level.
  • Several of the same musical characteristics from his earlier pieces are evident here, but some of these seemed a little more unusual in tonality, tempo, or structure.
  • There is more LH involvement in this set of pieces.
No. 21  – Untitled (Allegro robusto)

Scroll to 1:29 in this video:

Impressions While Playing:  It sounds and feels “robust,” doesn’t it?  It certainly packs a punch in such a short amount of time.  Read More


Bartok, For Children Vol. I, Play-Along: Post Three (Nos. 16 – 20 Reaction)

We’re back in action!  If you haven’t started the Bartok Play-Along as of this date (Jan. 16, 2015) – no worries!  You may certainly start here OR start studying/playing the pieces from the beginning post and work your way to this point. Please always play along at your own pace and be sure to ADD COMMENTS or ask a question about any Bartok blog post ANYTIME.  I’d LOVE to hear what your thoughts are regarding these VERY interesting gems!  

Quick-scan observations about Nos. 16-20 :    

  • These pieces are solidly EI to I (Early Intermediate to Intermediate)  in level at this point in the collection.
  • Part-writing (2 or more voices in one hand) adds to the complication.
  • Bartok continues to use a variety of tempos, simple meters, and simpler key areas in major and minor, and other modes as well.  A dash of chromaticism adds color.
  • He continues to indicate sophisticated fingering and pedaling markings to achieve an intended effect like sostenuto, legato, and so forth.
  • All 5 pieces utilize a good range of the keyboard with the hands usually an 8ve apart and at times, 2 8ves apart.
  • Bartok is quite specific about sound.  Heavy use of dynamics here,  including hairpin cresc. and dim. effects.
  • Notice the use of repeated notes in these 5 pieces, especially at the ends of phrases. Interesting.

No. 16  – Old Hungarian Tune

Impressions While Playing:  Sounds like a chant, don’t you think? The use of repeated notes and short phrases lend to that feeling.  Certainly it’s a Hungarian melody of some sort given the title, but I’m not sure if it’s a folk song (vocal) or folk tune (instrumental).  The 4-voice choral texture makes it less “pianistic” than some of the previous pieces in the set.

Teaching Value:  This would not be one of my “go-to” Bartok pieces for student performance, but it would make an excellent piece for sight reading (4 voices at once).  I hear a mix of modes here which would make it less predictable for the student who is reading the piece. Read More


Saturday Morning Listening: Bartok’s Orchestral Colors

Happy Saturday and Happy New Year!  To get us all back in the spirit of listening to and playing Bartok, here are 3 excerpts for your listening pleasure this weekend.  Bartok rejected the late Romantic orchestral sounds in favor of his own palette of colors.  His orchestration ranges from brilliant combinations of rhythm, texture, and timbre to pearly threads of intertwined delicate melodies.  Enjoy!  And see you soon on the continuation of the Bartok, For Children Vol. 1 Play-Along!

1. Concerto for Orchestra (1943)

Two years before his death, Bartok was commissioned to write this concerto for “orchestra” soloist.  Consisting of 5 movements total, it is quite a showpiece highlighting the virtuosic talents of each orchestra section.  Here is the 4th movement – Interrupted Intermezzo, a rather nostalgic, sentimental work written in rondo form with some rather violent interruptions.  Note Bartok’s typical use of folk-like and pentatonic melodies, shifting meters, and irregular rhythms.


2. Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta (1936)

One of his most complicated and demanding works for sure, written in 4 continuous movements and lasting around 30 minutes.  It’s written for 2 groups of strings and an army of percussion instruments including piano, harp, and celesta.  It’s extremely eerie  and also powerfully rhythmic.  Stanley Kubrick used a portion of this 3rd movement in the movie – The Shining.  Skip to 2:05 in the video if you’re tempted.  Recognize it?

3. The Miraculous Mandarin (1918-19)

Bartok read the scenario for this ballet in a Hungarian literary magazine and immediately set out to set the grisly tale to music.  This is probably his most agressive and spectacular orchestral score, swirling with energy and jagged rhythms and both sensuous and sinister at the same time.  The first performance of the suite was given in 1928 in Budapest under the baton of Ernö Dohnányi. The first staged performance of the entire ballet did not take place in Hungary until December of 1945, two months after the composer’s death.  Read more about the story HERE.



Bartok, For Children Vol. I, Play-Along: Post Four (Nos. 11- 15 Reaction)

A new approach to presenting these pieces to you…. so if you’ve haven’t had a chance yet to play through these 5, you should get a good sense of what they’re all about by first listening to the video and then reviewing my reactions.  Enjoy, and let me hear your thoughts!

Quick scan thoughts:    

  •  Bartok continues to present varied tempos in these pieces and within a single piece as well.  I would classify Nos. 11,  14, 15 as late elementary in level and Nos. 12, 13 as early intermediate, taking into account tempo, coordination of the hands, detailed articulation, and especially the maturity required for expression.
  • 4 out of the 5 key areas are centered on “D,”  with the tonality being either D Major or d minor.
  • I notice “attaca” on Nos. 13 and 14.  Perhaps Bartok intended Nos. 13,14, and 15 to be performed as as set?  It would work well.
  • All the pieces are less than a minute in length, except for no. 12.  He is a master at saying a great deal in such a short amount of time.
  • Bartok continues to create much nuance and inflection through his highly specific use of dynamics, articulation, and tempi.

No. 11  – Untitled (“Lento”)

The Expressive Idea:  Sweet, tender melodic playing in a highly expressive manner.

Technical Challenges:  A student should already be familiar with the execution of part-writing in the LH (2 or more voices in the hand).  In this case, there are “tie-downs” as pictured here:


Measures 9 thru 11

Playing doubled-notes legato is also required.  This is a great lesson in evocative playing and both hands get the chance to do this.  The melodies must be shaped quite expressively for a convincing performance.  Besides the hairpin cresc./dim. markings, notice the Bartok’s use of espr. and molto espr. 

Unique Aspect:  I love how Bartok incorporates a fragmented version of his main theme as his closing theme. Very clever and effective! The PP dynamic at the slower tempo will require some control.  Notice Bartok’s specific use of the pedal at the end to inform the performer of the importance of connecting the chords.

Correlated To:  Faber Piano Adventures, mid-to-late 2B to Early 3A, but keep in mind the LH stretches and LH legato technique required.

No. 12  – Untitled (“Allegro”)

Enjoy this beautiful recording of Geza Anda performing this piece (Sold!)

The Expressive Idea:  Very child-like melodic theme.  In stances like these, I ask students to describe the scene or mood implied by the innocent sound of the theme, especially as it travels here to the lower register.

Technical Challenges: The broken-chord accompaniment in both hands is unusual.  Requires strength and agility in the 4th and 5th fingers of LH and rotation technique here is a must!  In m. 28, my preference is fingers 5 and 3 for beat 1 rather than 3 and 2.  Keeping this accompaniment consistently controlled and quieter than the melody will take some work.  And I wonder why Mr. Anda leaves out the pedalling that Bartok indicated.  Personally, I think it supports the cresc. effect and creates good contrast.

Unique Aspect:  In mm. 24- 27 and again in mm. 52-56 it seems as if Bartok might modulate, yet he reverts both times to C Major.  Interesting…

Measures 25- 27

Measures 25- 27

Correlated To:  Faber Piano Adventures, Level 3B or later due to the intricate finger work and opposing articulations.

No. 13  – Ballad

The Expressive Idea:  The only one of the 5 pieces with a title.  So I would ask the student in this case:  “What’s the story all about?”  Note how Bartok uses espr. markings with the melodies in both the RH and LH.  I often tell students that this is a clear clue that the narrator in this ballad is really trying to get a point across to the listener.

Technical Challenges:

  • RH control of long notes which must be played in a hushed, sustained manner.
  • Smaller hands may have trouble playing the RH of m. 12  Use pedal between the notes if needed:

    R.H. stretch in m. 12

    R.H. stretch in m. 12

  • In m. 16, play the rolled chords slowly and gently.  In the video above, you’ll hear how they sound clipped and abrupt when played too fast.

Unique Aspect:  Bartok can sure say a lot in such a short time.  Through his clever use of harmonies, you might never realize that this piece is a mere eight-measure melody repeated once.  Note his use of “attaca” at the end and no double bar.  He intended this to move right into No. 14, which is also in the key of D minor.

Correlated To:  Faber Piano Adventures, Level 3B or later; the student should be familiar with syncopated rhythms, part-writing texture, and thumb tucks,

No. 14  – Untitled (Allegretto)

The Expressive Idea:  A rather quirky piece with its fragmented melodic ideas.  It has an insistent quality as each idea is expressed more loudly than the previous.  And then it becomes calm again. I can see how this might serve as a link between two other short pieces (see “attaca” at the last measure).

Technical Challenges:  Special attention must be given to the expression and timing of this piece in all its quirkiness.  What exactly is being expressed? The dynamics and articulation are especially revealing.

Here’s a statement that appears out of the blue and not at all linked to the previous melody:

Measures 5 -6

Measures 5 -6

Unique Aspect:  I’m beginning to notice how Bartok often uses his main theme, or portion thereof, as his conclusion to a piece.

Correlated To:  Faber Piano Adventures, Level 3A or later; student should be familiar with alternating-finger staccato and dotted rhythms; a strong sense of rhythmic division is necessary and a hand span of a 7th

No. 15  – Untitled (Allegro moderato)

Of Nos. 11- 15, this one is the most often played. 

The Expressive Idea:  Lots of graceful, cheerful humor here. This piece contains the same off-beat accompaniment in the LH as in No. 5, which gives it a nice romp. However…. notice how Bartok uses a quiet dynamic (P) and leggiero for every entrance of the theme therefore informing us not to give it too much “romp.”

Technical Challenges:  Though I categorize this piece as late elementary in level, those with small hands need to beware of the use of harmonic 7ths in the LH, especially 7ths with a note within such as this one:

LH span in measures

LH span in Measures 7-8

Unique Aspects:  This piece is created simply from two 4-mm. phrases which Bartok manipulates through tempo and/or harmonization.  At this point in the Play-Along, I’m beginning to notice Bartok’s affinity for entrances on off-beats, especially in the LH.

Correlated To:  Faber Piano Adventures, mid-to-late 2B, and small hands will need to be able to reach a 7th.

No. 12 is a new favorite for me.  What’s yours?


Bartok, For Children Vol. I, Play-Along: Post Three (Nos. 6 – 10 Reaction)

I’ve decided to take a different approach to my reaction posts in an effort to get right to the point and make it easier for readers to get the essentials.  I’m writing with the assumption that you have played through the pieces and that you might have your score in hand, but even if not, a casual reader will hopefully walk away with some food for thought after viewing the YouTube videos included.  Let me know what you think of the new format.

Quick scan thoughts:    

  •   I like the fact that the first 10 in Vol. 1 exhibit a variety of tempos and key areas – a little something for every student’s taste and need. I would classify Nos. 6 thru 9 as late elementary in level and No. 10 as early intermediate due to the quick tempo, coordination of the hands, and the detailed articulation, especially the opposing articulation between the hands.
  • Simple key areas are still used, including the Aeolian mode (natural minor) and both hands are still generally one octave apart. Melodies appear in the RH.
  • Bartok continues his precise dynamic and articulation markings.  I notice more tempo changes within a piece and a more percussive nature in three of the pieces.
  • Bartok seems to enjoy the writing variations of a single theme as the basis for his forms. You don’t see this often in easier classics.  Very unique.
  • All the pieces are less than a minute in length, except for no. 8 and 9.  He doesn’t provide a timing for No. 9, but it would appear that it would extend longer than 60 seconds.

No. 6  – Study for the Left Hand

The Expressive Idea:  Given the title, I would say this is a study in LH ostinato at a fast tempo and at various dynamic levels.  Do you notice how Bartok starts the piece the forte (molto marcato) and gradually diminishes the volume with each repeat of the melody?  Excellent etude in dynamic control.

Willard Palmer titled this “Folk Dance” in his collection “Bela Bartok: Introduction to his Piano Works.”  Here is the translation of the lyric that was sung to this old Hungarian melody:

Flowers tell my love for you.
Tulips, red carnations too,
Larkspur and this scarlet sage tell my burning love for you.

Who would have guessed this melody was originally a love song?

Technical Challenges: – Rhythmic steadiness in the LH while keeping the sound sharp and clear.  No slumping pinkies here!  Keep the hand rounded and with firm fingertips. To maintain the detached effect in the LH eighths, I would recommend a quick forearm staccato using the elbow as the hinge.
Excellent piece for teaching alternating-finger staccato (see m. 5).  I highly recommend alternating fingers for the best clarity in staccato.  It’s not too difficult for young students to learn.  In fact, they often find it fascinating.

I suggest the following fingering changes for students with smaller hands or shorter fingers:


Mm. 36-38 (also notice my LH accents here to help students create pulses for rhythmic steadiness, but don’t over-emphasize)

ALSO…..In MM. 42 and 48  – try 1 and 5 in the LH instead

Recommended For:  Students who love those primal-sounding pieces and who want something fast and exciting.  This work could replace that supposed “Native American” piece to which students of today are still quite attracted.  Great for those who need work in steadiness.

Correlates To: Late 2B to Early 3A of Faber Piano Adventures.  Keep the LH forearm staccato technique in mind, plus the RH alternating finger staccato and fast-changing articulations.

No. 7  – Play Song (also seen as “Sewing Song”)

The Expressive Idea:  This is the sound of quiet play, as when a child is playing alone quite peacefully and chanting to himself/herself.  Notice the use of falling 3rds and 2nds which are so typical in children’s songs.

Again in Mr. Palmer’s “Bela Bartok: Introduction to his Piano Works, ” he provided the the translation of the song that was sung to this melody.  It was all about a mother mending a child’s shirt! (hence, his title of “Sewing Song”)

Technical Challenges:  Playing an expressive, singing melody is definitely in order.  It’s one of the first things I would ask the student to learn well and completely separate from the accompaniment. Notice Bartok’s change of fingering in the RH of m. 1 to imply separating the tenuto note from the slurred notes.  He really desired a change of inflection here (2 separate ideas:  a single sound followed by a legato phrase).  The LH is quiet, filled with legato double notes and chords.

Please consider the student’s reach especially in areas like these:


Notice how Bartok occasionally cues the performer to use the pedal to achieve the legato in the 2-note slurs — mm. 5-6, and similar areas.

Here’s a fingering change I would recommend. His is quite a stretch!


Recommended For:  Students who love a beautiful melody or a student who needs work in “cantabile” playing and may not desire a long piece.  The intermittent pedaling wouldn’t be difficult to achieve.

Correlates To: Faber mid-to-late 2B to Early 3A, but keep in mind the LH stretches and LH legato technique required.

No. 8  – Children’s Game

The Expressive Idea:  This piece evokes images of children running outdoors and playing games like tag, circle games, and so forth.  Ask students to describe the children’s activities and antics while you demonstrate the various sections.  This really brings it to life for them.

Again in “Bela Bartok: Introduction to his Piano Works, ” Palmer provided the the translation of the song that was sung to this melody.  It was all about a mother mending a child’s shirt!

Technical Challenges:
1. Much of the focus here is on the coordination between hands which work opposite of each other in articulation, rhythm, or both. Here’s such an area where the player really needs to focus on releasing RH slurs while the LH remains legato:


Mm. 13- 16

2.  The tempo changes need to be planned and executed carefully.

Tricky Section Alert!  Isolate this LH 2-note slur section immediately at lesson one so a student may get it immediately into “automatic” mode, as I often call it. Truly drop the wrist and execute a forward lift on the 5th finger.


Mm. 62 – 68

Recommended For:  Students who are intrigued by a story-telling piece or a “character” piece, or who might need such a piece to motivate them.  The rhythmic flair is appealing, too.  Try to demonstrate this well to students and tell your own version of the story while doing so.  I did this recently and the student just lit up!

Correlates To: Faber mid-late 2B to early 3A, but keep in mind the LH reaches.  Prior experience in a multiplicity of short slurs is a must! And they must be willing to go after that tricky LH part (mm. 62 – 68).

No. 9  – Song

The Expressive Idea:  This is not a commonly-played piece in the “For Children” Volume One. It’s brief, yet long on expression, especially due to the long notes on the cadences. I hear two moods associated with the contrasting sections (the Adagio vs. the Poco piu vivo).  In pieces such as this, I ask students to describe what the child might be singing about while I demonstrate (EX: something sad or troublesome in the slow section vs. the spark in the faster sections – perhaps a happy memory of a playful time?).  I think students really enjoy character changes within a piece, especially if they can picture it in their minds.

Technical Challenges:
1. There are not many notes in this piece, but good control is required for the sound effects Bartok outlines quite clearly. EX:  The decay of the long notes in the cadences.
2.  He is precise about the differences in tempo between the sections.  For the Poco piu vivo, the student needs to be absolute about the length given to the changing note values and observant of the tapering wrist lifts at the ends of phrases.

Tricky Section Alert!  LH MM. 9-11 and 23-25: For those with small hands, the LH requires some contortion!  To connect these particular chords, apply the pedal between them.

Recommended For:  An older child or adult, in my opinion.  An effective expression for this piece would require some maturity and good sense of timing.  However….a pensive performance could be taught to any sensitive and willing student.

Correlates To: Faber 2B or later.

*The tempo in the poco piu vivo not quite animated enough for the contrast.

No. 10  – Children’s Dance

The Expressive Idea:   Images of many children playing on a playground come to mind.  Lots of whirling and twirling in the hands creating a rich, propelling sound.  Bartok refers to it as “impetuoso” in m. 5 (full of sudden or rash actions).  I like how the sounds reach a full din, subside some, and then start up again.  Just like kids, right?  Bartok knew what he was doing.

Technical Challenges:   I have an adult student working on this piece currently and here are some of her conclusions made during her early stage of learning this piece, in mostly her words:

1. Become aware of the LH chordal shapes by blocking them measure by measure and then playing them blocked while RH plays as written.
In mm. 13-14, this is the first time that the RH breaks off from the usual pattern:

  IMG_0779Take these 2 measures apart to to learn what is happening in each hand. (Me: notice the other “impetuous” shifts Bartok inserts later also)

2.  Learn the 4mm. phrases individually by isolating each and practicing them for fluency.  Then start combining them.

Recommended For:  A student who has already had some experience with simultaneous movement in both hands and opposing articulations.  A good sense of rhythmic steadiness would also help. This is an unrelenting mini-toccata.

*A little on the slow side.

Correlates To: Faber 3B or later due to the fast finger work and it’s especially intricate articulation.

A vastly different set of 5 than before.  Which do you like?  I played Nos. 6 and 8 as a child and recall liking them very much.  I’ve taught Nos. 7, 8, and 10.  One of my adult students really enjoyed No. 7 and she’s currently gnashing her teeth over No. 10, but she’s determined!


Bartok’s “For Children, Vol. I” Piano Play-Along: Post One (Introduction)

Welcome to the Play-Along for For Children, Vol. 1, by Bela Bartok.  For more information on this play-along, check out the entire schedule HERE.

Our venture into the piano music of Bartok once again explores the influence of folk music in piano literature, and in this case, material that was intended for teaching purpose.  Throughout his life, Bartok dedicated himself to composing piano pieces for students at all levels, elementary to advanced.  His For Children, a two-volume set for elementary to intermediate pianists, is based on folk songs and dances he collected from Hungary and Slovakia.  We will be focusing on the Vol. 1 which is based on Hungarian folk melodies.

The entire set was composed in 1908-09 and later revised by Bartok in 1945 when he decided to reduce the number of pieces and provide titles for them.  Bartok marked fingering, articulation, phrasing, dynamics and metronome indications quite meticulously and is known to have worked closely with Boosey and Hawkes on the revised edition, pictured here:


We will compare it with the 1998 revised and re-engraved edition by his son, Peter, here.

Bartok For Children image

Apparently there are a few changes of notes and more dynamics added in this later edition.  The foreword by Peter Bartok might reveal some new information (at this writing, I don’t have a copy in hand, but I’ll remark on this later).

The For Children has been a piano teaching classic for generations and I hope you enjoy our exploration into what makes it so engaging and delightful for all ages to play.  During the Play-Along, please let us all know if you have played or taught a particular selection before and share your thoughts about your favorites and why.

Feel free to use any edition you may already have on hand.  You may certainly grab a Boosey and Hawkes copy HERE if you like, but try to support your local music store if you can.

Remember to post your reactions for the selected pieces each week through Dec. 7.   I look forward to what you have to say regardless of whether you have played or taught the pieces.  It’s always great to hear fresh thoughts and reactions to new music.

Post your comments and certainly ask questions in the Reply section below or on the FB group page HERE.  I’ll answer questions as quickly as I can.  And please chime in on questions, too!

Fingers ready???  Go!
Nos. 1 -5 first.  See you on the blog next Monday!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...