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Piano Lesson: Teaching “GAME” by Kabalevsky, Op. 39 Children’s Pieces (Videos)

Vibrant musical miniatures are learning enticements for piano students.

In this spirit, Dimitry Kabalevsky, a Twentieth Century Russian composer, shines in his collection of Children’s Pieces (Op.39) that run the gamut of emotions, from sad expressions of human nature, “Waltz” (in d minor) to ebullient centerpieces, such as “Clowns,” and “Galop.” (spelled with one L)

“Game” aka “Playing” is one of the more lighthearted ones in Op. 39 It embodies the art of playing staccato in an economy of measures.(Kabalevsky, Director of his own music school in Russia, imbued technique and musicianship skills by vehicle of his own compositions)

In “Game,” crisp articulations should be “shaped” to avoid tedium and one dimensional vertical playing. (Exploring Harmonic Rhythm gives insights on phrasing and helps clarify points of tension and resolution) I have students play through chords on every scale degree of Bb Major to familiarize them with tonality.

Blocking out broken chord outlines is another good learning springboard. The player becomes aware of Dominant/tonic relationships. (Lean to taper effect) And a Vi chord realized horizontally suggests a twinge of emotion, because it’s unexpected.

I also recommend playing through the piece in LEGATO initially to clarify phrasing. (It’s otherwise easy for staccato notes to sound like rosy the riveter working on a B52 bomber)

In the video below, I discuss the analogy of story-telling since “Game” has a programmatic title. (i.e. the composer’s extra musical component is intrinsic to interpretation) To this end, the student is asked to build the melodic line to “climax,” and then gradually taper it. In addition, she interweaves the story structure of a BEGINNING, MIDDLE, and END.

My own recording of “GAME,” uploaded more than a year ago, was taken at brisk tempo, though I advised my student to observe a more conservative “Allegretto.”

Nonetheless, my quicker reading conforms with the composer’s annotation that he wanted his piece played in ONE.. (i.e. one impulse per measure) The type of staccato I enlisted, incidentally, was NOT the Vertical Woodpecker variety. It was more of a wrist-shaped, articulation that I believe best served the music.

"A Game" by Kabalevsky, Dimitry Kabalevsky, Op. 39 Children's Pieces by Kabalevsky, piano lessons, playing piano, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten

Playing A Children’s “Game” while learning the piano (Videos)

Dimitri Kabalevsky, a 20th Century Russian composer, produced colorful character pieces that engage a child’s imagination as they advance piano technique.

The Op. 39 collection contains pieces such as “Joke” and “Clowns” that have individual, built-in musical goals.

For certain, even such repertoire with a pedagogical dimension, can be equally as inviting for adults of any age who embark upon piano lessons. Case in point: a young mother from Alaska intensified her study over Skype by adding “A Game” to her repertoire.


While on the surface, this light-hearted miniature looks and sounds easy, a student must cultivate a clean, crisp staccato that has shape and contour.

To this end, baby-step practicing is recommended as fleshed out in the videos below:

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Piano Instruction: A charming, quick-paced piece for late elementary students, titled “Clowns,” by Gillock (VIDEO)

Continuing my tribute to the prolific and talented composer, William Gillock, I’ve snatched “Clowns” from Volume Two of his Accent on Gillock collection. (published by Willis Music Company)

Not to be long-winded about my approach to teaching this sprightly composition, I simply outline a step-wise practicing routine.

1) Since the melody is divided between the hands through most of the score, it would be counter-productive to separate the hands in an initial learning phase. Therefore, I recommend a continuous flow from one hand to the other at a very slow tempo and with a bigger dynamic than indicated. This allows a a deep feel connection to the notes while reinforcing fingering.

Staccato, by the way, is played with the whole relaxed arm, and supple wrist as I demonstrated in the video.

Articulation of notes, or their groupings with slurs as indicated, including staccato, accent marks should be integrated into the behind tempo playing.

2) As conscientious practicing continues, I support playing “Clowns” in the same tempo but with the added observance of dynamics.

3) If the process moves along nicely over time, I ask the pupil to advance the tempo, but not to a level where his playing becomes out of control.

4) Finally, over time, the piece should mature or ripen into the desired tempo which still remains a subjective realm unless the composer had affixed a specific metronome marking to his music. (Gillock indicated, “Rather fast, humorously” to describe the pace and character of “Clowns.”)

Here’s today’s video:

The Clowns universe is a draw for many composers. Kabalevsky created a charming “Clowns” piece that belongs to his Op. 39 Children’s Pieces.

And I sheepishly admit to having written Juggling Clowns that’s part of my Moonbeams and Other Musical Sketches collection. The attached art had been contributed by my late uncle, David Smiton.


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Aikido and Piano are a good match for Sakura (Video) (Note the rolling forward wrist motion in Kabalevsky’s “Galop”)

Main article: Aikido
Aikido shihōnage technique.

“Aikido (合氣道:あいきどう aikidō?) is a modern grappling-based Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba (植芝 盛平 Ueshiba Morihei, 1883 – 1969). The art consists of “striking”, “throwing” and “joint locking” techniques and is known for its fluidity and blending with an attacker, rather than meeting “force with force”. Emphasis is upon joining with the rhythm and intent of the opponent in order to find the optimal position and timing with which to apply force. Aikidō is also known for emphasizing the spiritual and philosophical development of its students reflecting the religious background of its founder.

“Morihei Ueshiba developed aikido mainly from Daitō-ryū aiki-jūjutsu incorporating training movements such as those for the yari (spear), jō (a short quarterstaff), and perhaps also juken (bayonet). Arguably the strongest influence is that of kenjutsu and in many ways, an aikidō practitioner moves as an empty handed swordsman.”

Sakura comes for her lesson when it’s already dark at 6:30 p.m. and she’s in full Aikido garb.

At 12, she speaks Japanese and German fluently. And it can get confusing at times when one or the other parent picks her up and chatters off in the native language. (Dad is from Germany, mom, from Japan)

I’m always awestruck when Sakura easily slips from one mode of communication to another without skipping a beat.

Both parents, University faculty, were determined to keep their cultures preserved as they raised three children and what a nice job they have done!


Sakura has taken piano lessons for two years now, and is one of my rare left-handed pupils. It doesn’t seem to factor into her playing, because I wouldn’t know of this predisposition if my eyes were open or closed.

Her pronounced dedication to practicing has an intensity that keeps propelling her forward, and she understands the importance of keeping the steady rhythm of learning alive and well.

In the repertoire arena, Sakura has studied the works of J.C. Bach, J.S. Bach, Kabalevsky, Clementi, and Mozart.

Recently, she performed Bach’s Prelude no. 1 in C from the Well-Tempered Clavier at her Middle School talent show. And through the grapevine I heard that it was with flying colors.

Yesterday, on a cold evening in Fresno, she played a sprightly “Galop” by Kabalevsky and demonstrated her mastery of the spring forward wrist. (Notice the rolling motion that drives the 16ths to the long note)

Bravo, Sakura! You’re a joy to teach!

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Piano Lesson: Teaching and playing “Galop” by Kabalevsky from the Op. 39 Children’s Pieces (Videos)

Don’t do a double take on the spelling of “Galop” because every edition I’ve seen up close and personal, does not have the expected double l.

If it were as simple to play this piece as spelling its name correctly or incorrectly, I wouldn’t have a problem. But in truth, a miniature like this is a mountain of a challenge. (Kabalevsky, a 20th Century composer, was Director of a music school in Russia and conceived his compositions with a particular technical goal in mind. His Children’s Pieces Op. 39, comprise a colorful collection with an assortment of moods)

From Kabalevsky an Introduction to his Piano Works, Willard Palmer, Editor:

“While teaching his young students, Kabalevsky came to realize that there was a great need for simple and interesting piano pieces that would maintain the student’s interest and at the same time introduce the various problems of technique and musicianship in such a way as to make them easily grasped and understood.”


Last night, my second year piano student, Sakura, who is left-handed, attentively practiced “Galop,” focusing on phrasing and articulation in each hand. That’s the rub–trying to play slurred groups of two 8ths in the left hand against a spin of 5 notes in the right. And what about the balance issue. The left hand must not scream and overshadow the right though the temptation is to pound away at those staccato chords where they come at the CLIMAX, from measures 9 through 16. There’s a melody to consider and just the same, you don’t want to sound like Rosie the Riveter. Keep your shock absorb wrists supple and spongy.

Basically, “Galop” is a high intensity piece regardless of its peak coming dead center. You’ll always need your energy reserves in high gear, but be sure not to spill your guts where you find yourself losing control.

Practice as slowly as possible with consciousness about the interaction of both hands at any given time, and then raise up your tempo in increments.

Above all, enjoy the ride and keep your cool.

Sakura’s lesson: