Watts - Strange Things Happen

Interpreting the Music

Teaching & Learning the Piece

Watts: Strange Things Happen

• D minor
• Swing rhythms and syncopation
• Rests and beat anticipation
• Sudden changes of dynamics
• Chords (up to 4 notes in RH)
• Both hands active, some repositioning
• Big diverging leap to final note

This jazzy piece lives up to its name with plenty of contrasts in rhythm, harmony and dynamics. It will suit a student with a strong sense of pulse and an ability to coordinate offbeat rhythms between the hands. There is also a need to play chords accurately and negotiate accidentals confidently. Above all, a theatrical character needs to be projected in performance, so this may not succeed for shy, hesitant, or very young players.

The swing style quavers must become effortless so an early part of learning this piece will be clapping and playing the rhythms. Try speaking them using nonsense syllables such as dah di dah di. To facilitate bar 8, play those 4 quavers over three times to feel the pulse and then the effect of stopping on the D and letting the beat go by in silence.

In bars 9-12, detach the LH crotchets so that they sound like the bass player in a jazz trio. The other member of your trio, the drummer, is worth thinking about too: listen to some swing music carefully and pick out the sound of the cymbals and snare drum. To help you get started, this educational demonstration of swing style has very useful information within the first four minutes:

Dynamics can change suddenly so it is helpful to learn the most unexpected ones along with the notes. Places that need extra attention are bars 6-7, 12-13 and 22-23, all of which require a sudden quietness. It is not easy to shut off the momentum of a crescendo or a high-energy f passage, so it must be practised as part of the whole feeling of playing the right notes. Other bars also contain more manageable dynamic contrasts (such as bar 16 where the drop to p is helped by a rest) which should also be observed as they are essential to a characterful performance. You may also wish to put more rise and fall into unmarked bars such as 2 and 4.

Fingering is quite straightforward except where there is chromatic movement, and repositioning is mainly within easy reach. Mistakes are more likely to be caused by failure to cover black notes when they are required – it is important to look ahead and not be caught out by unexpected accidentals. Rests provide useful opportunities to get in position early.

Finding the last note will be vital to the performance: the player needs to know that the RH has to jump further than the LH. It is actually necessary to practise directing the attention first one way then the other. As it is easier to reach out for an octave, the LH 5 should be moved down into position at the start of the crotchet rest, and can then be left waiting on the D while the RH is repositioned two octaves up. Demonstrate this to show how the rest gives enough time to achieve this so that both hands are ready to play by the time the rest ends. If you prefer to use a stronger finger such as 3, there is also time for that, but the feeling will be more of a jump than a stretch.

In performance this piece will need an exaggerated approach to all the dynamics and a sense of dramatic timing, of the kind used to such effect by a good storyteller. It would provide depth to the performance if the student has in mind a storyline (invented, remembered or read) for this music to portray – the word “suddenly” could well feature several times!

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