Blog The official blog of Thu, 20 Nov 2014 17:13:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Day in the Life: Meet Musicnotes’ Customer Support Specialists Thu, 20 Nov 2014 17:08:30 +0000 Continue reading...]]> Have you ever wondered who’s answering your questions via email, live chat or over the phone? We asked our Customer Support Director Anna Fischer to share a behind-the-scenes look into the inner workings of Musicnotes Customer Support (we refer to our Specialists as ‘Superstars’ here at the office). Anna graciously agreed to take time out of her oh-so-busy holiday-season schedule and give us a look into a day in the life of your very own Musicnotes Superstars.

As we head into the holiday (read: busy) season, we want to take the time to share a little more about the talented team of people who field your calls, emails and chat requests every day. Our frontline staff are the only people you may ever talk to (personally) from Musicnotes, but besides helping you print, just what is it that makes a Musicnotes Customer Support Specialist?

Why “Support Specialists?” You have probably heard most similar positions called Customer Service agents/representatives, and while it might sound like we are tooting our own horns a little, we are much more than that.   Supporting and providing service to our customers is (clearly) the biggest part of our job, but we have a very specific-to-this-job set of skills and knowledge you may not realize.

The hardest, and greatest, part of our job is that there is no such thing as an “average” Musicnotes customer. This can be challenging, because we not only have to address customers’ questions and concerns, but do so in a way that is personalized to them.  Since music isn’t a “standard” product, we take great pride and care in knowing our responses and customer base aren’t standard either. While we do rely on “standard” answer suggestions and a Knowledge Base of possible information, no one ticket is ever exactly the same. After all, we have close to 5 million customers, worldwide.

Our Customer Support area (decorated for CS appreciation week).

Our Customer Support area (decorated for CS appreciation week).

We call ourselves specialists because we aren’t just agents. We know music theory, cross-platform technologies, how different browsers and operating systems work with our printing process, copyright laws, what your coupon code is, where to find your purchase history, how many arrangements of ‘Let it Go’ we have available on site (if you are keeping score at home, it’s 60 and counting), and what key you need it in if you play the flute (C Major). We can suggest an arrangement that is appropriate for the beginner you are buying for, or how to filter your search if you are a more advanced musician. All of this is pretty standard practice for us, but we know a lot of things, and are constantly learning more!

So next time you have a question, concern, problem, or compliment, know we are here to help and will do our best to give you the answers you need, the knowledge we have, and a great experience! (We promise, we are real people and not robots!) Please feel free to share your Customer Support Specialist stories in the comments below so we can share them with our staff. And, as always, thank you for contacting us, and for using!

Have you ever had to use Musicnotes Customer Support? Are there any questions that you’d like to see addressed by our Superstars in a blog post? We’d love to hear from you! Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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How to Count Music: Be Rhythm Ready with These Basic Tips Fri, 14 Nov 2014 14:00:39 +0000 Continue reading...]]> Are you a budding musician just starting to learn to read music? Maybe you have plenty of experience playing interpretively, but want to get a better handle on musical technique and hone your timing and synchronization. Either way, learning to properly count music is a skill that you’ll find helpful throughout your musical journey, not to mention absolutely essential if you’re planning to play with other people.

The first thing you’ll need to learn in order to keep time is your basic note values. We explored note values in our “How to Read Sheet Music” blog post a while back. You can familiarize yourself with note values, as well as meter (the beat), by reviewing that blog post. Below is a general refresher on note values.

Note Values

Learn to count musical notes

Next, you’ll need to understand time signatures. Again, you’ll find the basic overview in our “How to Read Sheet Music” post. The time signature’s top number tells you how many beats you’ll play in a measure, and the bottom number gives you the value of a single beat (the pulse your foot taps with or the tempo your metronome will tick with). Beginners should start by clapping or tapping along to the beat with song recordings, in order to establish a basic understanding of tempo and time.

Even for those of us who are experts at reading music, playing on beat can prove difficult to perfect. Often, while we’re playing, we perceive that we’re playing right on beat. However, if you listen back to a recording of your practice session, you’ll notice instances that are slightly off. And those very slight nuances can mean the difference of your next performance sounding muddled or cleanly finished like a pro.

We’ve put together a few of our favorite tips for practicing in (close to) perfect time.

Count Aloud

As you can see in the quarter-to-eighth-to-sixteenth note chart above, we count music aloud (“one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and”) to help identify the beat of a piece of music. This allows you to sub-divide the quarter notes (beats) in a simple, audible way.

There are many ways to count music aloud, including the popular use of numbers, “and,” and vowels. Each measure’s downbeats take the number, upbeats the “and,” and subdivisions in-between take vowels including “e” and “a.” Triplets can just be counted out by sounding out “trip-a-let,” using a number and the word “1-trip-let,” “2-trip-let,” or you could use any triple-syllabic word you fancy “chim-pan-zee” “pine-ap-ple” “mus-ic-notes” (ok, maybe the last one is a bit of a stretch). For dotted notes, you simply divide the beats-per-measure out.  For example, say you have a measure in 4/4 time with a half-note, dotted quarter and eighth note. You’d count “One…Two, Three-and-four, and.”


Other systems of vocalized subdivision include the “ta ti-ti” method of reading rhythms using syllables, with “ta” quarter notes, “ti-ti” eighth notes, “tiri-tiri” sixteenth notes and onward.

Once you become familiar with whatever vocalized method works best for you, it’ll help to count out any new piece of music prior to attempting to play it.

My Metronome, My Friend

Your metronome can be your best friend when it comes to keeping time while practicing a new-to-you piece. Your metronome will act as your tempo guide, and learning to play with the metronome will pay off when playing away from it as well.


Your metronome signifies the pulse of your song by “ticking” or employing a visual motion with your beats per minute (BPM). Although we almost never play exactly aligned with our metronome, its controlled tempo can aid in consistency, you can use it slow down or speed up technical exercises, and sheet music commonly displays a BPM, marking the speed a piece is to be played at.

Metronome marking

A simple search for metronomes brings up hundreds of viable options, ranging from the standard ticking pendulum to digital tuner/metronome combos (with prices from around $15 up to more than $200).  You may also choose to download a metronome app, which we featured in our “Useful Apps for Musicians” post. In addition to the app featured in that post, we like Metronome Plus (iOS only, Free or $1.99 for add-on features) and Tempo (Android, $0.99).

Branch Out

If you only practice counting in 4/4 time, you’ll most likely run into problems when attempting to play in other time signatures. It’s helpful to familiarize yourself with and start practicing a variety of time signatures.

Listen and/or follow along to sheet music for well-known works in somewhat obscure meters like Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” in 5/4 time, “Money” by Pink Floyd in 7/4 time and “Piano Man” by Billy Joel, which uses 3/4 time (unusual for a pop song). Count aloud with the notes on the sheet music, until you begin to notice and feel patterns. And for even more obscure time signatures, like 7/8 time, try dividing each measure into more manageable parts (2 times 2 and 1 times 3), as this sheet music example of Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” displays.

Have Fun

One of our more recent obsessions is the music rhythm game “Deemo,” an app that challenges you to tap with various melodies in order to complete the song and pass the next story level. It’s really an unusual combination, yet totally addictive to play.

Deemo game for iOS and Android

Speaking of apps, many of you have requested that we add a tempo-change functionality to our Musicnotes Android and our recently updated iOS Viewer and brand-new Player apps. Keep an eye out in coming months for that and more great updates, and please keep your suggestions coming. Your insights are what inspire us to continuously make our sheet music viewer and playback apps even better!

Do you have additional pointers that you use while counting music? Do you think it’s important to include rhythm study in your music education? Please share your thoughts, insights (and app suggestions!) in the comments section below.

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Should We Let It Be or Let It Go? Fri, 07 Nov 2014 21:54:36 +0000 Continue reading...]]> Years before millions of Elsas-in-training were belting out “Let It Go,” Paul, George, Ringo and John were imploring us to ease up and “Let It Be.” Both songs have seen cross-genre success, dozens of notable artists have clamored to cover each, and the duo of “Let It” tunes appears on the Musicnotes all-time bestsellers list.

We thought it’d be fun to dig a little deeper into each of these momentous anthems. There’s no doubt in our minds that each holds a very special place in musical history, and that they both are as fun and beautiful to play as they are to listen to.


It’s been noted that both songs were written in a single day. “Let It Be” was recorded in January of 1969, with author Paul McCartney on lead vocals and piano, John Lennon on bass and backing vocals, George Harrison playing lead guitar and, of course, Ringo Starr on drums.

Let It Go” was written by married team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who started working on the ‘Frozen’ film’s score in November 2011. The full orchestration and Idina Menzel’s vocals for “Let It Go” were recorded mid-2013.

Interestingly, Paul McCartney’s wife Linda sang backup vocals on the single and album recordings of “Let It Be,” her only known collaboration with the group, making both songs husband-and-wife endeavors.

Sales Stats

Released on March 6, 1970, “Let It Be” debuted at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100, then the highest single chart debut to-date, and it hit the top spot on April 11th of that year where it sat for two weeks. The subsequent album, titled after the single, also broke sales records with 3.7 million advanced orders. “Let It Be” was a featured track on the 2000 Beatles compilation album, ‘1,’ which has sold an estimated 31 million copies worldwide, placing ‘1’ as the 18th bestselling album of all time. “Let It Be” is a very popular choice amongst Musicnotes musicians as well. The song currently occupies our #25 spot of all-time sheet music bestsellers, with more than 35,000 downloads to-date.

By comparison, “Let It Go” sits at #2 on the Musicnotes all-time bestsellers list… now reaching well beyond 100,000 sheet music downloads less than a year after being published. The ‘Frozen’ soundtrack has topped the Billboard 200 list 13 times and has sold close to 3.5 million copies in the U.S. alone since its  November 25, 2013 release. Foreign language variations of “Let It Go” have topped charts around the world, including a South Korean version hitting #6 on the country’s pop music chart.


Most of us probably remember “Let It Go” winning the Academy Award for ‘Best Original Song’ earlier this year, but did you know “Let It Be” also has Oscar honors? It took the “Original Song Score” award in 1971 for its use in the Beatles documentary film of the same name. Additionally, “Let It Be” won the “Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture of a Television Special” Grammy for its use in the film, and the song placed at no. 20 on Rolling Stone’s ‘500 Greatest Songs’ list.

Next year’s Grammy Award nominees won’t be released until next month, but we’d bet “Let It Go” makes the list. It won’t be the first Grammy for songwriter Robert Lopez, however. Lopez is already a member of the very exclusive EGOT club, having won an Emmy for ‘The Wonder Pets,’ a Grammy for ‘The Book of Mormon‘ cast recording, and three Tony Awards, one for ‘Avenue Q‘ and two for ‘The Book for Mormon.’


Now, it could be argued that you haven’t really made it until you’ve been covered on the show ‘Glee.’ (We’re kind of kidding.) But, sure enough, both of these songs have been or will be coming to a TV near you. “Let It Be” was sung by the cast during season five’s Beatles tribute, and “Let It Go” is said to be performed by Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) in an episode airing next year.

Amongst the countless covers of both songs, we’ve chosen just a few of our very favorites..
“Let It Be” by Aretha Franklin

“Let It Be” by Ray Charles

“Let It Be” by Jennifer Hudson

“Let It Go” (with Vivaldi’s ‘Winter’ from ‘The Four Seasons’) by The Piano Guys

“Let It Go” by Jun Sung Ahn

“Let It Go” by Alex Boyé feat. One Voice Children’s Choir

Both songs have moved us and inspired us to make music, and that’s what it’s all about, right? And, you can find a fantastic selection of arrangements for both songs, covering every instrument and skill level, at right now. We’d consider either a timeless addition to your sheet music library.

Shop all “Let It Be” sheet music

Shop all “Let It Go” sheet music

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Music Hits and Politics: It Was ‘All in the Game’ for One VP Fri, 31 Oct 2014 19:00:16 +0000 Continue reading...]]> There’s certainly no lack of discussion about music’s role in politics. From Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 3,” whose title “Bonaparte” was rescinded following Napoleon’s emperor declaration, to Pete Seeger’s “We Shall Overcome” and the counterculture movements of the 1960s and 70s, music, as with other forms of art, has not shied from politically charged commentary.

However, for next week’s Election Day, we at Musicnotes have been fascinated by the story of a politico’s non-partisan musical ties. Mr. Charles Dawes served as the 30th Vice President of the United States, he won the Nobel Peace Prize, and the self-taught pianist wrote a signature tune that just happened to become a cross-generational music hit.

An influential lawyer and businessman by trade, Charles Gates Dawes was an avid music lover who often would sit at the piano and compose for pleasure. It was at one of these impromptu sessions, in 1911, that Dawes wrote his “Melody,” a charismatic song that he took particular liking to. Later adding a violin solo to the piece, Dawes gifted “Melody” to violinist Mariettan Francis MacMillan, who then sold the work to a publisher. Thus, the newly titled “Melody in A Major” became an early 20th century music hit. But, the song’s story doesn’t come to close to stopping there.

Years after scoring his smashing musical success, Dawes became the inaugural director of the U.S. Bureau of the Budget, where he worked on a plan for Germany’s reparations following World War I. Dawes earned a Nobel Peace Price in 1925 for his plan, and he was selected, alongside presidential nominee Calvin Coolidge, as the vice presidential Republican candidate for the 1924 election. Dawes and Coolidge took office, and “Melody in A Major” became the unofficial anthem of Dawes’s statesmanship, tailing him in parades, opening casual speaking engagements and paying tribute at special events. He even admitted that he had grown tired of the tune prior to his death in 1951. Alas, the song would live on.

In fact, later that very year, “Melody in A Major” became a pop sensation yet again. Lyricist Carl Sigman, who had collaborated with the likes of Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington, adapted “Melody” into “It’s All in the Game,” an anthem of the capricious nature of love. (Some might say the same attributes could be argued about Dawes’s adopted profession of politics, but that’s another discussion.) “It’s All in the Game” was recorded by crooner Tommy Edwards first in 1951, and it became the R&B star’s biggest hit with a 1958 re-recording. Additional releases by Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Van Morrison and Merle Haggard solidified the song’s status as a pop music standard.

The rest, as they say, is music hit history. Thus, Charles Dawes is both the only Vice President and the only Nobel Prize winner with a verifiable music hit.

Click Here to shop all downloadable sheet music arrangements of Charles Dawes’ “Melody in A Major,” and click here to listen to Tommy Edwards’s recording of “It’s All in the Game.”

Do you have a favorite politics and music story? Is there a song you like to play on Election Day? Share in the comments below!

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The Art of Choral Music Programming Thu, 23 Oct 2014 17:03:23 +0000 Continue reading...]]> Director of Choral Catalog, Jonathan Miller

Director of Choral Catalog, Jonathan Miller

 Musicnotes is thrilled to announce the addition of renowned choral conductor, composer, arranger, artistic director and vocalist Jonathan Miller to the team.
 Jonathan joins us while continuing his work with Chicago a cappella, an esteemed ensemble of professional singers he founded in 1993.
In addition to overseeing the Musicnotes choral sheet music offerings, Jonathan graciously agreed to share his insights and expertise on choral arranging, vocal well-being, repertoire suggestions, choral music programming and more with all of us on the Musicnotes Blog. In fact, the latter topic he’s touching on today.

The Art of Choral Music Programming: How to Captivate an Audience

I am excited to be joining the Musicnotes team. I think one of the reasons I was tapped for this position is that, for 21 years, I’ve been asking the question, “How can I create choral concerts that are so interesting that I myself would want to show up?” In the professional vocal ensemble that I lead, I can’t just assume that people will pay to hear us. We have to earn their trust (and ticket sales) with something of real quality. We have to offer something compelling enough to have people leave 500 channels on cable and YouTube videos and, instead, go hear a live performance.

A lot of what I do here at Musicnotes involves choosing repertoire—giving you and your ensembles great things to sing. For more than 35 years I have been active on the choral-music scene in Chicago. In 1993 I founded the virtuoso ensemble Chicago a cappella to provide something unique for Chicago audiences. I wanted to create the most compelling, interesting, and beautifully sung choral-music experiences possible.

I’ll be contributing guest blogs here from time to time. With this first column, I thought I’d outline some of the principles that guide me in programming, in the hope that some of them might be useful to you. These apply to all sorts of programs—solo and group recitals, band concerts, and so on.

The most important principle is this:

  • Only program music about which you are personally excited. Everything else follows from that.
    • High school and collegiate a cappella groups do this pretty much all the time. The rest of us can learn from their enthusiasm.

Other principles:

  • Mix it up.
    • How eclectic are your personal tastes? How can you use them?
  • Be committed to your musical choices. This is part of being a leader.
    • If you are personally committed to a piece, share your excitement with your singers. Sharing your own heart is the best way to get others excited about the music you pick.

Some more questions to ask yourself:

  • Who’s your audience?
    • If you’re directing a school choir and know that you’ll get lots of parents in your audience, what music do they like? Can you find arrangements of songs from their youthful years? That might get them on their feet.
  • Do you have a personal bucket list of repertoire?
    • Are you working down that list? A more extreme version: If you only had one concert left to program in your life, what would be on it? (And if you’re not sharing that music with your audiences, why not?)

I also would like to recommend a terrific, brand-new resource: Compelling Choral Concerts, written by my longtime colleague Linda Crabtree Powell and her collaborators. She demystifies the practice of creating great programs and provides many samples of successful concerts.

Watch this space for more tips and encouragement on the wonderful art of choral programming, and find an ever-expanding selection of downloadable choral sheet music at If you’re having trouble finding particular repertoire, please contact us and let us know.

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Melodic Spooks and Spells: Solo Piano Halloween Sheet Music Tue, 14 Oct 2014 16:30:55 +0000 Continue reading...]]> The cobwebs are all up, the jack-lanterns are lit and the spooky snacks are all set out for your guests… but still, the atmosphere for your Halloween party isn’t quite right. Yes, you’re missing the mood music – and, of course, there’s no better music than live music. The problem is, with the guests on their way, you don’t have time to figure out what to play …

While Musicnotes has a great selection of Halloween Sheet Music for all instruments, in a social setting your best instrument will be the piano – so we’ve put together a list of some of our favorite spooky piano solos, perfect for your Halloween party.

Classic Scary Themes

While not quite at the level of Christmas, the Halloween holiday does have its share of classic themes that have become associated with the season. If you’re looking for something to play that sets a frightening mood, but is also recognizable by your guests, try a few of these:

  • The Great Pumpkin Waltz: From the animated classic, ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,’ this jazzy halloween classic written by Vince Guaraldi is a staple of any social Halloween gathering.
  • Tubular Bells: For decades, The Exorcist has terrified moviegoers – meaning just about anyone who’s ever wanted to be in for a scare has heard this theme – and likely associates it with pure terror and dread.
  • ‘Halloween’ (Main Theme): John Carpenter’s main theme from the movie that started the “slasher film” genre. Simple to play, yet still scary as heck.
  • Funeral March of a Marionette: For those who remember it, this piece by Guonod may be best remembered as the theme from ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ – but even if you never saw the show, you likely know the theme. A little bouncy, but still creepy in a “there’s a clown hiding in your closet” kind of way.
  • Toccata and Fugue in D Minor: The quintessential classical theme for Halloween, this piece by Bach is only advised for those who are up for a serious challenge. But if you can play it, it’s the perfect showcase piece for any Halloween.

Fun Halloween Pieces

If you’d prefer to keep your Halloween party a little more light-hearted, or if it’s a party where you expect more children than adults, you may want to sway your selections toward the fun side of Halloween with these fun Halloween piano solos:

  • This Is Halloween: From Disney’s Halloween family favorite, ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ – instantly recognizable by people of all ages (and you might get a few people singing along as well).
  • The Addams Family Theme: Your guests will snap along to this classic, which has graced television, movies and even Broadway!
  • Monster Mash: Costumed or not, guests are guaranteed to get up and dance when you start playing this Halloween bash classic.
  • Witch Doctor: Looking for a fun intermediate-level piece? The Witch Doctor has the cure for your creepy sheet music needs.
  • Purple People Eater: A #1 hit in 1958, the Purple People Eater is the perfect uptempo addition to any fun or frightful festivities.
  • The Simpsons Halloween Special Theme: The Simpsons unique take on their own theme, reimagined for their Halloween specials.
  • Ghost Story: This spooky original by composer Kim Williams is just simply a fun little piece to play – plus it’s easily accessible for pianists of all ages!
  • The Teddy Bears’ Picnic (Halloween Version): Musicnotes’s own “spookified” arrangement of this children’s classic takes the theme you know so well, and gives it a unique Halloween twist.

Spooky Thematic Mood Music
If you’re looking to simply set a spooky mood, we have several selections that can work well for the occasion. While they may not be instantly recognizable, these are perfect for setting the stage for your Halloween fun and frights.

  • Invaders of the Night: A jaunty little piece, easy enough for beginners but still complex enough to have some fun. A great selection for a more “fun” type of Halloween party.
  • Will O’ The Wisp: A bit more classical and airy in its theme, still with mysterious undertones – perfect for a more airy, yet nefarious, feel to your party.
  • Danse Macabre: A classical favorite for Halloween composed by Camille Saint-Saëns, requiring a bit more skill to perform, yet still not too difficult for most pianists. An absolute must-have for any gothic-themed party.
  • The Fog: This often-overlooked theme from John Carpenter’s (of ‘Halloween’ fame) 1979 movie of the same name may not be instantly recognizable, but its ominous tone is perfectly suited to just about anyone looking to set a scary mood (without being too obvious and cliche).
  • In the House – In a Heartbeat: Another ominous sounding soundtrack piece, this time from the Danny Boyle’s zombie classic ’28 Days Later’ is also often-overlooked, but remains one of our favorite for setting the mood on a dark and stormy night.
  • Helen’s Theme: This main theme from the movie ‘The Candyman’ is beautiful, yet still somehow frightening. But what else would you expect from a horror movie theme composed by Philip Glass?

Of course there are many, many more great themes for Halloween piano sheet music – but we hope our guide of some of our favorites helps you out. Is there any particular piece you love to play each Halloween?  If so, tell us in the comments – we’d love to hear what music you use to set a spooky mood.


Photo via creative commons:

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Can You Match New Hit Songs with Their Lyrics? Tue, 07 Oct 2014 21:22:02 +0000 Did you know we add new sheet music to nearly every single day? In fact, about 400 new arrangements appear on our website weekly. That’s a whole lot of hit songs to keep up with.

We thought it’d be fun to see how many recent hit songs you can identify with a little lyrical quiz. All 10 of the titles below have been added to site (amongst many, many more) in the past week or so. See if you can match up the lyric with the correct song title below, and be sure to check out all the newest additions to our massive sheet music catalogue.

See how many of these lyrics you can match to their correct song. Just choose the title of the song you think each lyric belongs to, and find out how many of these recently added sheet music hits you know!

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Learn About and Learn How to Play Fun Oktoberfest Music! Fri, 03 Oct 2014 16:47:02 +0000 Continue reading...]]> Each year in Munich, Germany, more than 6 million people gather to eat, drink and socialize celebrating all things Bavarian, as millions more gather for their own ‘Oktoberfest’ celebrations around the world. While the beer, brezen and würstl are consumed, revelers enjoy an array of traditional German tunes, often singing and dancing along.

Here at Musicnotes headquarters, we like to celebrate Oktoberfest Gemütlichkeit by playing a wide array of German sheet music! Since the festival runs from mid-September through the first weekend of October, we wanted to be sure to get our oompah fix in with the Top 10 Oktoberfest Songs to play at your very own celebration.

Traditional German oompah music is loved for its often lively, dance-inducing tempo. The oompah is very similar to a Czech or Polish polka, except that rather than accordion, the oompah relies on brass instruments. Often a tuba plays the tonic and 5th on the first and third beats, creating the “oom.” Then, a higher-pitched instrument will come in for the second and fourth beats as the “pah.” If the oompah is in triple time, we relay it as “oom-pah-pah.” Oompah and polka are commonly used interchangeably in the US, and American Oktoberfest music celebrations frequently include German-influenced polka. In fact, you’ll see a couple on our list below!

1. Ein Prosit Der Gemutlichkeit

THE song of Oktoberfest, “Ein Prosit” is guaranteed to get the crowd in a good and festive mood. The song’s lyrics translate to “A toast to friendship and good times,” then at fest the band leader counts down to “g’stuffa” (big drink), and ends with the iconic call “zicke zacke zicke zacke” and crowd’s response “hoi, hoi, hoi,” signifying fun times are being had by all. (See a video of “Ein Prosit” being performed at Oktoberfest here.)

2. In Heaven There Is No Beer

As you probably have guessed, this song is an ode to the official drink of Oktoberfest. In German the title translates to “Im Himmel gibt’s kein Bier.” The song was written for the soundtrack to the 1956 German film “Die Fischerin vom Bodensee,” and has been a favorite at beer halls, and generally anywhere imbibing is going on, ever since. (Hear polka band The Emeralds version of “In Heaven There Is No Beer” here.)

3. Oom-Pah-Pah

A spirited number from Lionel Bart’s 1960 musical ‘Oliver!’, the lyrics of “Oom-Pah-Pah” are meant to be left open to interpretation. Although not a German tune, this song makes a fun and festive addition to Oktoberfest festivities! (See the Kilkenny Musical Society perform “Oom-Pah-Pah” here.)

4. Pizzicato Polka

Johann Strauss wrote his “Pizzicato Polka” in 1892 for a performance conducted by his brother Edward in Hamburg. Known as the “Waltz King,” Johann composed more than 500 waltzes, polkas, quadrilles and operettas during his illustrious career. (See the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra perform “Pizzicato Polka” here.)

5. Hey! Baby!

Now a popular part of many German Oktoberfest gatherings, Austrian DJ Ötzi’s cover of Bruce Channel’s 1962 hit is frequently accompanied by the entire crowd singing along. (Listen to Bruce Channel’s original recording of “Hey! Baby!” here.)

6. 99 Luftballons

Also scoring a spot on our “Top 10 One-Hit Wonders” list, Nena’s “99 Luftballons” was the highest charting non-English song in the US in 1983. Here in America we still love our Nena, using the song in a plethora of television shows and movies. (See Nena’s “99 Luftballons” music video here.)

7. Beer Barrel Polka

A Czech polka written by Jaromír Vejvoda in 1927 (with English lyrics later added by Lew Brown), this song is sometimes referred to by its  “roll out the barrel” verse rather than its official title. Liberace’s frantically paced piano cover became one of the showman’s signature songs, and here in the home of Musicnotes headquarters (Madison, Wisconsin), we play and sing the song frequently at university sporting events. (See Liberace perform his “Beer Barrel Polka” here.)

8. Take Me Home, Country Roads

We’re not exactly sure how John Denver’s eponymous “Take Me Home, Country Roads” became a German Oktoberfest essential. Perhaps its the song’s essence of nostalgia and camaraderie, maybe it’s because John Denver was of German decent (actually born Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr.), or maybe the song is just fun to sing and sway to after a few foamy steins. One thing is for certain, you’ll be hard-pressed to not hear this song during Munich’s annual party, and the crowd WILL be singing and swaying along. (Listen to John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” here.)

9. Stolen Dance

For our last two Oktoberfest tunes, we thought we’d feature recent German additions to our ever-expanding Musicnotes sheet music catalog. “Stolen Dance” by German duo Milky Chance has topped popular music charts around the world, and it just happens to be a really fun song to boot. (See the official “Stolen Dance” music video here.)

10. Auf uns

German singer-songwriter Andreas Bourani’s second album dropped this spring, and its lead single “Auf uns” was one of our most-requested German songs this year. (See the official “Auf uns” video here.)

We have so much more German sheet music to explore at, including traditional, folk, holiday and modern songs. Do you have a favorite Oktoberfest song or memory? Please share in the comments section below!

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Begin Putting the ‘Pro’ in Musical Improvisation Tue, 30 Sep 2014 20:12:00 +0000 Continue reading...]]> Perhaps the ultimate display of personal musicianship and expression, improvisation is a fantastic component to any developing musician’s study. Learning to play spontaneously isn’t easy, and it’s certainly a skill built on trial and error. However, there are a few things beginners can do to aid in their mastery of musical improvisation.

First, you might be thinking, “I’m not a jazz guy, what do I need to practice improvisation for?”From Bach to Beethoven, improvisation has a storied history in classical music, allowing composers to show off their skills and attract attention and admirers. A recent study has even suggested that musicians who train in improvisation are able to unlock their innermost creativity. When we improvise, the more analytical, self-monitoring parts of our brain deactivate, allowing the creative, spontaneous areas to light up with activity. This means that improvisation actually exercises new areas of the brain, how cool is that?

We’ve pulled a few of our top tips to release  each of our inner improvisational abilities. Warm up, pick a theme, ready, set, improvise!

1. Know Your Fundamentals

Before you even begin trying your hands at musical improvisation, it’s infinitely helpful to have a working knowledge of music theory. Your keys, scales, chords and time signatures are the tools of your improvisation toolbox, without which it’ll be pretty difficult, if not impossible, to create the sound you want. Know your scales forward and backward, major and minor, blues, pentatonic. You’ll start to recognize what notes complement which keys.

A good go-to piano exercise is to play chords with your left hand, while using your right hand to create a simple melody using those same chord tones. Likewise, you can expand into scale tones matching the key you’re playing in. Especially when you’re just starting out, it’s a great help to ‘think’ a little more when improvising, so that later on your built-up intuition can take over!

2. Train Your Ear

Hand-in-hand with your music theory knowledge is being able to instantly recognize essential elements of melody and harmony in real time. We really like the ear training exercises at

If you’re already able to play by ear, you’re one step ahead of the game! Practice playing along with recordings of your favorite songs, then, once you have that down, try playing the melody by memory alone. Next, start experimenting with the melody. Don’t worry about changing the piece beyond recognition, but rather add slight alterations here and there, working toward a sound you like. Or, start off playing a piece of sheet music, then gradually stray from the melody and make up your own. In addition to the notes, test variations in phrasing, rhythm and dynamics.

A really fun activity to help improve your musical improvisation is to listen to as many great improvisers as you can! Download albums by Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Grateful Dead… and the countless other infamous improvisors throughout history.

3. Don’t Fret Over Mistakes

One of the very most important, and sometimes most difficult, parts of learning how to improvise is learning how to let go of the need for perfection. If you hit an unforgiving note, just play on! Remember that even your musical idols were once novices, and that each of us has to start somewhere.

Experimenting without self-judgement is how we break out of our comfort zones and learn new skills. Have fun, laugh and leave criticism at the door when you sit down to practice your improvisation.

4. Record Yourself

Just as with any practice session, reviewing what you’ve just played can provide worlds of helpful insight. Often what you hear while playing is slightly different that what your audience might hear, so listening to a recording of your improv practice can either encourage you to continue as you are, or persuade you to make a few tweaks.

Make note of what worked or didn’t work, don’t get discouraged by mistakes, but think of how much more aware you’ll be the next time. Also keenly notice which phrases/passages/patterns seem to really work, continue honing them, memorize and add them to your improvising toolbox.

5. Be Aware

Once the big day comes and you’re improvising with other musicians in a band or playing in front of a live audience, be sure to engage with your surroundings! Make visual contact with your bandmates, keep an eye on the audience, and really be present in that moment.

Play with emotion and passion, and tell a story that transcends words alone. One of the very coolest things about improvisation is that your message is completely up to YOU.

Do you have additional tips to help novice improvisers? Are there any particular tools you’ve found especially helpful in honing your improvisational skills? Share your insights and expertise in the comments section below!

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Quotables for Pianists: 12 of Our Favorite Piano Quotes Tue, 23 Sep 2014 20:56:33 +0000 Continue reading...]]> Did you know that September has been named Piano Month by The National Piano Foundation? Just in time to celebrate, we’ve gathered some of our favorite piano quotes paying tribute to one of our very favorite instruments. We hope you enjoy this collection of piano quotations, and please add your own treasured odes to the piano in the comments section at the end!



“It’s like a whole orchestra, the piano for me.” -Dave Brubeck

(Download Dave Brubeck sheet music)



“Life is like a piano. What you get out of it depends on how you play it.” -Tom Lehrer

(Download Tom Lehrer sheet music)



“When I had nothing else, I had my mother and the piano. And you know what? They were all I needed.” -Alicia Keys

(Download Alicia Keys sheet music)



“These fingers of mine, they got brains in ‘em. You don’t tell them what to do – they do it.” -Jerry Lee Lewis

(Download Jerry Lee Lewis sheet music)



“I’m able to sometimes express things even more articulately on the piano than I am with singing.” -Harry Connick Jr.

(Download Harry Connick Jr. sheet music)



“I believe in using the entire piano as a single instrument capable of expressing every possible musical idea.” -Oscar Peterson

(Download Oscar Peterson sheet music)



“Sometimes I can only groan, and suffer, and pour out my despair at the piano.” -Frederic Chopin

(Download Frederic Chopin sheet music)



“What has keys but can’t listen to the beauty it unlocks? A piano.” -Jarod Kintz



“The piano ain’t got no wrong notes.” -Thelonious Monk

(Download Thelonious Monk sheet music)



“(The piano is) able to communicate the subtlest universal truths by means of wood, metal and vibrating air.” -Kenneth Miller




“The important thing is to feel your music, really feel it and believe it.” -Ray Charles

(Download Ray Charles sheet music)



“Life is like a piano; the white keys represent happiness and the black show sadness. But as you go through life’s journey, remember that the black keys also create music.” -Author unknown

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