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


Khachaturian “Adventures of Ivan” Piano Play-Along: Post Four (Nos. 5 and 6 Reaction)

Ivan’s adventures are becoming much more involved.  I found myself playing Nos. 5 and 6 many times this past week and with each playing I enjoyed new discoveries in sound color, rhythm, and texture.  How could anyone tire of these pieces?  They’re so captivating!

Quick scan thoughts:

  • No. 5 “Ivan is Very Busy” is filled with finger antics as it explores a multitude of staccato touches with repeated notes and repeated patterns, especially in the LH.  It’s constantly moving without a single rest until the penultimate measure.  Since it’s rapid and lightly textured, it should result in light, nimble sounds.  Interesting to notice that the hands are positioned closely together throughout
  • No. 6 “Ivan and Natasha” is a lush, Romantic texture especially compared to the previous movements.  The LH provides a good deal of rhythmic movement to propel the phrases.  Of course Khachaturian’s trademark chromaticism is evident with accidentals all over this score. It seems he couldn’t confine himself to any one key area for too long.

Thoughts while playing….

No. 5 –  “Ivan is Very Busy” (also seen as “Ivan is Busy” and “Etude” in other collections)

An excellent piece for repeated staccato-note playing and alternation between the hands.  I played this for a student this week to get his impression.  His reaction:  “I like that!”  It’s easy to hear why this piece would be motivating to a young student. It’s energetic and truly adventuresome in sound, rhythm, and range.

First impressions:

  • Stay alert about the accidentals.  They change rapidly.
  • Your LH will get a staccato workout and a quick forearm staccato would probably add a lighter effect than just a finger staccato.  Here’s a demo of the idea:

Fingering:  Measures18 & 19 – I found Mirovitch’s LH 4-2-3-2 pattern difficult to coordinate with the RH, so see my suggestion below.  It was much easier to process when playing both hands together at the fast tempo.


And this re-distribution for the top of p. 3 was also much easier to grab onto:


For the repeated notes in the LH of m. 39, I preferred the standard 3-2-1 repetition.  It felt lighter and it naturally sorted itself out in the latter measures as well.


Pedaling:   I would keep it light and dry where indicated, except for the C Major build-up at the end.

Such an invigorating piece!  Here’s a sample YouTube video.  There were several. but I had difficulty locating one where a performer truly played staccato in the LH.

No. 6 –  “Ivan and Natasha”

Words that came to mind as I played:  dreamy, exotic, luscious, mysterious….. And just who is this Natasha?  Sister, friend, girlfriend?  This piece should be better known.  It would be excellent preparation for Impressionistic repertoire.  So much of the harmonic color and texture reminded me of Debussy.

How many times do you see a falling augmented 5th like this one as the basis of a melody (soprano line)?  Khachaturian makes it sound like a good fit.


Khachaturian creates many beautifully-exotic harmonies in such a short piece and his use of chromaticism quite naturally provides the push-and-pull for the phrasing and climaxes.  Both hands are filled with melodic figuration.  I especially enjoyed this exquisite subito P color change after the climax in m. 17.


At this moment (top of second page), the harmonies descend quietly and melt into the return of the main theme in m. 22 (lovely!).   I often have students block the harmonies in sections like this one in order to hear how the harmonic progression guides the phrase to its destination.  Here’s an example in this video.

This piece will stretch a student’s expressive capabilities!  A well-crafted gem! Here’s a sensitive performance I discovered on YouTube.

Have you heard Nos. 5 or 6 before?  Taught them previously?  I would love to know about students’ reactions.  I’m keeping “Ivan and Natasha” on file for future use with late intermediate students.



Khachaturian “Adventures of Ivan” Piano Play-Along: Post Three (Nos. 3 and 4 Reaction)

These next two in the set were less familiar to me upon my reading.  How about you?

Quick scan thoughts:

  • Khachaturian seemed to like the idea of not including a keysignature and just filling a piece with accidentals.  Perhaps this is due to his frequent use of chromatic harmonies.  It does keep you on your toes during the reading process.
  • No. 3 looked quite s-l-o-w moving…

Thoughts while playing….

No. 3  –  Ivan is Ill (sometimes seen in other collections as “Ivan is Sick”)

Listening to all the unexpected dissonances made me think Ivan must have been quite queasy.   Nothing felt settled in this work, at least not until the end of the piece.

Three things went through my mind as I played (tempo at quarter = 58, which I thought offered a convincing “lento.”):

  1. Would any of my students find this piece too dissonant for their predictable ears?
  2. How could I convince a student to play a piece that moves this slowly?
  3. What about the control needed to spin out this slow-moving melodic line in the RH? including the voicing of the soprano?

This piece wouldn’t be an instant “sell” to a typical student.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t care for the piece.  I actually like it for all its quirkiness and find that it lends itself to the imagination quite well.  I would have to paint a real sound picture, through my own vivid performance, to entice a student to give it a try.  You never know.  Some students like pieces that are different from all the rest.

I would sell this piece on the fact that it sounds “queasy” and that Ivan may be feeling a stomach issue in progress, so to speak.  Young students can relate to that, right?  As I demonstrate the piece I would ask the student:  “What do you think could be happening here?” and continue with this type of questioning all the way to the end in order to create a story or scene.  With a picture in mind and the imagination activated, I think students then become far more interested and maybe inclined to illustrate an interesting picture like this one with colorful sounds.

A few details to keep in mind:

1. Notice the shift in the LH articulation from legato to tenuto (detached) in mm. 1-2 and 5-6.  The resulting effect is quite different.


Measures 1 and 2 


Measures 5 and 6

2.  Measure 11 – I’m convinced the the C-natural in the soprano is a typo.  I couldn’t embrace it.  C-flat sounds like the intention. Your thoughts?


Measure 11

3. The dynamics, especially the swells (hairpin cresc. and dim. marks – see Measures 1 and 2 above), help shape the long melodic phrases and give them direction.  I would ask the student to insert this type of “swell shaping” in all of the phrases, even where it’s not indicated, to prevent the piece from sounding flat and vertical.  Most of the phrases here are either 2 or 4 measures in length.

And what finally happened at the end?  —  I would ask the student to describe the scene. It gradually calms down. Perhaps Ivan was finally able to fall into some restful sleep after a tortured spell of nausea.  Poor guy.

No. 4  –  Ivan Goes to a Party (subtitled “Waltz” and sometimes referred to as “The Birthday” or “The Birthday Party” in other collections)

This piece falls into the category of “sounds harder than it plays” especially once you sort through all the accidentals and get it your fingers wrapped around it.  Both the MCA and Schirmer scores indicate the tempo of quarter note = 72, but surely they meant the dotted-half-note.  This waltz requires some lilt!  I enjoyed this bouncy, colorful waltz the more I played it.

How many pieces do you know in the standard piano repertoire that start on the leading tone and resolve downward (see RH below)?


Measure 4 – D# leading tone

Notice above how the editor is quite clear about the LH’s lightness (PP, staccato, and senza ped.) with beat 1 to receive some length and emphasis.

Unique features:  I especially enjoyed Khachaturian’s tasty harmonies throughout, but especially during places like the rit. in mm. 33-35.  Play these measures quite slowly a few times to notice how the chords change color and resolve to B-flat minor.  I would ask a student to “listen for” these color shifts while creating a smooth meltdown.

This “party” is  full of interesting twists and turns (or “characters” or “events”) which is why I think students would really enjoy it.  The unexpected hemiola in mm. 61 – 64 is refreshing (indicated through the use of accents).

I also enjoyed the back-and-forth from E Major to D-flat Major in the Coda (last 15 mm. of the piece.).  Party’s over.

What are some of the features you enjoyed?

I leave you with a YouTube video I found of a young pianist who has captured a good spirit for this piece.





Khachaturian “Adventures of Ivan” Piano Play-Along: Post Two (Nos. 1 and 2 Reaction)

Here’s the first reaction post for the Khachaturian Piano Play-Along! Don’t worry if you haven’t played through these first two pieces yet. You have all of August to read through the set.

Have you seen the entire Play-Along plan for August yet?  You can read it HERE.  Please be sure to express your own reactions here on the blog at the different posts or on the Facebook page.  I really do want to know your thoughts about these very intriguing pieces.

Quick scan thoughts:

In the preface of the MCA edition, the editor, Alfred Mirovitch, describes the set as such: “The refreshing originality of mood, harmonization and pianistic invention in these easy, amusing, but provocative compositions will act as a stimulus and challenge to alert all students and teachers.”   Well said.  I couldn’t agree more.  I found myself playing both No. 1 and especially No. 2 several times in order to fully absorb Khachaturian’s craftsmanship.  For me it was his harmonic choices and interesting chord progressions that immediately tickled my ear.  No. 1 is more predictable in its construction, but No. 2 was less so and I dug into that one more deeply for better understanding.

Thoughts while playing….

No. 1  –  Ivan Sings (subtitled “Andantino” in the MCA edition, but not in the Schirmer)

This piece’s popularity is understandable.  Khachaturian created a beautiful song without words by simple means.  The lovely, plaintive melody captures you from the beginning and compells you to continue.  The simple 3rds in the LH support the sweetness of character (I can’t imagine thick 3-note chords in the LH at all!),  and the descending bass line and chromatic harmonic movement evoke even more melancholy.

Khachaturian made a masterful move in m. 18 for the variation of the main theme.    He merely inverted the LH 3rds into 6ths, adjusted the range a bit, and added a simple touch of rhythmic syncopation for lilt.  Brilliant.  Now the theme sounds even more tender.  Note how he also inverted the RH in m. 18, compared to m.2.  The grace notes add playfulness.  I’ve had to remind students to play the grace notes quickly and quite lightly, before the beat.

The other aspect I address often with students is the LH repeated notes.  I tell them that they should play the repeated notes as sustained as possible to maintain a very smooth, unarticulated texture.  I ask that they use a gliding motion on the keys in order to accomplish this and to watch carefully to prevent the key from coming all the way up.  Here’s a student giving it a whirl:

Opening measures of LH (“gliding” somewhat exaggerated here due to slow tempo):

M. 18 LH (aiming to sustain the thumb and play it more lightly than the lower note):

Two other issues I often address:

  1. Tempo – students are often compelled to play this piece too fast and they have a tendency to rush the tempo during the variation of the theme in m. 18.
  2. Pedaling – they must be attentive to the syncopated pedaling and other changes as indicated (Mirovitch says that the pedaling is his, not Khachaturian’s.)

*I like the tempo indication of quarter note = 88.  It’s reasonable for the mood.

No. 2 – Ivan Can’t Go Out Today

At first glance this piece looks rather fleeting so I checked the metronome indication first.  Personally I feel that 66 to each measure seems too slow for an Allegro moderato, so I bumped it up a little (around 74-76 per measure) and it provided more direction to the phrases.   It also hastened the harmonic movement so I could hear the chord progressions and cadences more clearly.

Speaking of harmony, this piece was an unusual adventure in that respect.  The key center was hard to pin down at first due to all the chromaticism, but I settled on C natural minor, due to the frequent use of C minor triads, use of G leading to C, and then of course, the Picardy third at the end resulting in C Major.  Interesting how Khachaturian uses only accidentals and no keysignature.

Does the music reflect the title?

With title in mind, I played this adventure at the slightly faster tempo of 76 a few times. I imagined a child’s complaint or outcry in Measures 5 thru 12:


Mounting frustration in m. 37:


Flip-flopping moods in mm. 63 thru 77:


And finally the child’s resignation with the rit. and dim. at the end.  Lots of nervous energy throughout.  What do you hear?

Reading Schedule:

  • Introduction Post:  Monday, August 11
  • Khachaturian, Adventures of Ivan, Nos. 1 and 2 reaction:  Thursday, August 14
  • Nos. 3 and 4 reaction:  Monday, August 18
  • Nos. 5 and 6 reaction:  Monday, August 25
  • Nos. 7 and 8 reaction:  Wednesday, August 27


Khachaturian “Adventures of Ivan” Piano Play-Along: Post One (Introduction) 

Welcome to the Play-Along for Adventures of Ivan, by Aram Khachaturian.  For more information on this play-along, check out the entire schedule HERE.

Khachaturian’s eight intermediate-level pieces, Adventures of Ivan, offer a good glimpse into the beauty of his writing and the talents that confirmed his standing as one of the greatest Russian composers of the 20th century.  If you’ve heard his piano music before, you may have encountered the all-too-frequently-played Toccata and perhaps the brilliant Sonatina in A minor (1959), both of which still appear on competition lists from time to time and are popular with advancing students.

Khachaturian relied heavily on the folk music of his native Armenia to influence his approach.  He adored the songs and dances of his homeland and his compositions are filled with tuneful melodies that range from colorful and cheerful to quite plaintive or melancholic.  His pieces are brimming with strong character and humor portrayed often with propulsive and exciting rhythms.  Though he wrote only two volumes of  intermediate-level piano pieces (Adventures of Ivan and Ten Pieces for the Young Pianist), his small output at this level has a great deal to offer the piano student, and the piano teacher as well!

Some Background 

The one adventure with which you may be familiar is the first adventure in the set of 8 entitled “Ivan Sings” (or referred to as Andantino in some publications).  This particular piece appears in a few older piano anthologies (to be listed later) but not in the more current piano collections due to copyright restrictions.

Khachaturian composed the Ivan pieces over a period of years prior to their publication in 1948 by Leeds Music Corporation in the U.S.  “Ivan Sings” was composed in 1926.  Though it seems that Ivan’s Adventures should contain a narrative of some sort, they are simply snapshots of the life of a young boy.  The titles assist the player in finding a character, mood, or expression in the music (and thus the reference to the set as “character pieces.”)

My Copy

I’ll be playing from the Schirmer Edition for this Play-Along, shown here. It contains the complete set of 8 pieces.

Khachaturian album

I’ll compare it to the older MCA edition pictured here, which I found in my local library:

Adventures of Ivan

Please use any edition you may have on hand.  You may certainly grab a copy HERE if necessary, but try to support your local music store if you can.  NOTE:  After a Google search I found that a digital download is available on Scribd, but I encourage you to purchase a hard copy to have available for your students or just for yourself.

Remember to post your reactions for the selected pieces each week of August.   I look forward to what you have to say, whether or not you’ve taught or played the pieces before.

Along the way I’ll comment on some of the specifics I notice in both the Schirmer and MCA editions and offer some insights for teaching.

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 others may chime in on questions, too!

Enjoy learning more about this imaginative set!


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