Stapleton - Blue Sky Blues

Interpreting the Music

Notice the jazz feel here, with the relative importance of beats 2 and 4 giving an authentic, swing style blues:

Teaching & Learning the Piece

Stapleton: Blue Sky Blues

• C major, plenty of accidentals
• Blues-style harmonies
• Swing quavers
• Jaunty tone
• RH melody, LH chords
• Potential for misreading accidentals
• Musical ideas recur but not in identical repeats

A very jazzy piece, this would suit a student who is able to deal with the swing rhythms and strongly syncopated style, who is confident enough to sound as if they were improvising and really enjoying it. They also need the precision and agility to get from one chord to another especially where the music moves on quickly.

Learning the piece will be a mixture of recognising what has already been learned and spotting the differences this time around. For example, the RH of bars 1-4 repeats in bars 9-12 with one tiny change to the last chord. Bars 12 and 15 are identical in both hands but then move on to a different chord after a different length of rest. If your student likes a visual grasp of what’s happening, you could try colouring in a graphic score of the music (the student listens and draws simple pictures that represent the structure of the music) showing where the music is identical and similar. One way to divide up the task of learning the whole piece, once the sections are colour-coded, could be to set a particular colour, or two, as the week’s homework.

Consistency with fingering is important - wherever the music is the same, use the same fingering – it will help to prevent confusion and wrong turns. Chords such as in bars 8 and 16 should be learned with specific fingering that is always used, so that the fingers snap to their positions without wavering – this is important for good sight-readers who may like to grab at chords with any fingers that seem available, but in performance they risk missing the correct notes or mistiming the chord.

The dynamic level builds steadily through the piece, with the first section starting at mp and ending on a crescendo, the second repeating this scheme from a louder starting point of mf, and bar 16 resounding with a loud accented chord. The mp marking in bar 17 is a surprise, giving a dramatic “wait-for-it” moment before the final bar’s forte.

Trouble spots may be encountered at bars 8, 16 and 18. The music is the same just before each of these but then they go off to different chords, and the counting is different too. Once you have agreed on the fingering for each, try practising them alongside each other, counting carefully and comparing the different results. It is interesting to notice that at bar 16 the chord contains notes in common with the previous bar, unlike the chord at bar 8.

In bar 18 there is only a quaver’s rest to get both hands moved out to their positions for the final gesture. There is a need to practise the feeling of being ready to play all three notes reliably in the RH as they have to turn over the thumb, as well as making the jump to the F sharp.

Start by playing the last 3 notes one hand at a time, then hands together. Look at one hand and then the other whilst doing this, and try playing with the eyes closed too. Then go back to hands separately and practise the jump across the bar line, always using the same fingering for bar 17! Putting the hands together includes planning where to look. There is actually plenty of time for a quick glance each way, and it is even possible to plan the eye movements along with those of the fingers. As the RH move is the smallest, it makes sense to look right first and place the finger on its F sharp with the thumb ready over the G, while the LH starts to travel down, and then look at the low F sharp to ensure that the LH arrives on it safely. The dynamic marking is forte with accents so the final playing must be bold and accurate.

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