Hanna, Barbera & Curtin - Top Cat
Top Cat gained its fame as a popular, animated cartoon programme in the early 1960s, first broadcast in 1961 on the ABC network. Its lovable, central, roguish character, known as T.C. to the in-crowd, is Top Cat. Check out further characters to the story here:
There are plenty of Top Cat episodes, such as this one, on You Tube, but you might be challenged as to how you ration your student's time spent watching the cartoons instead of practising the piece !
Just click on the arrowhead:
Pupil Match & Suitability
This will be a popular piece for many students, especially once they have heard the original version accompanying the cartoon titles.
Any students who do not have a particularly strong sense of rhythm may find this music a challenge.
Independence of hands is important, so that the walking bass line is not disturbed by the RH syncopations, so be certain to allocate this piece wisely to avoid too much disappointment for a potential student who may not quite be up to the task.
Style & Tempo
This bright swing mood needs to enjoy a confident, up-beat tempo and a cheeky, not over-earnest approach.
Phrasing & Articulation
There is a lot of detail here, and you may well be advised to listen not only to the original sound track, but to other swing band tracks, in order to get a clear feel for the idiom.
Remember that a jazz style is not simply a series of accents, but that phrasing and shaping of the line is as relevant here as it is to classical music.
There are a number of textural elements to the phrasing and each should be clear and independent of the other part - see below.
Tone & Texture
The textures between hands should be clearly defined.
Care should be taken not to over emphasize the LH dynamic. Even an equal weighting between hands will create an effect which may overburden the RH lines.
The demands on technique here relate to independence of hands and strong chord playing alongside an ability to play with a really taut sense of rhythm and pulse.
Much is fairly obvious here.
Very little pedal is needed. Its effect is more to add resonance to the piano tone, for example on the first accentuated RH quavers.
As the main element here is the rhythmic security and swing feel, it would be wise to do plenty of rhythm games to get that really taut sense of pulse into your student’s mind.
The emphasis should be on fun.
Read Lang Lang’s biography and discover the importance of the Tom & Jerry cartoons for him. The music here (Top Cat!) speaks for itself.
Lang Lang (2009) Journey of a Thousand Miles: My Story. London: Aurum.
Check out the following games:
The emphasis must be on rhythmic security and the acquisition of fluent jazz playing skills, so it is a good idea to encourage practice which involves working away from the notation.
Get your students to work on, and to build up, coordination skills away from the keyboard first. Without the added complication of notes, the focus can be on rhythmic exercises. This should help to underpin a more secure performance.
It is likely that the majority of students learning this piece will be of a relatively young age so check out these games, but note that these exercises should be clearly set up in the lesson itself so that the student understands exactly what to do.
One area almost guaranteed to cause difficulty is Bars 16 - 19.
Playing offbeat for several beats and then coming back on beat needs concentration and practice since, for most students, it will not feel natural.
It is probably better to save the working at this for lesson time to make sure that your student is getting it right.
Slow practice, as ever, is also to be recommended here.
An excellent performance will have a cool but confident swing feel, which sits very naturally in place and does not feel like hard work. The playing will be detailed and feature all the correct accentuation. It will be assured and sound as if the performer is having great fun.
A good performance will capture the swing groove well, although it might feel rather more driven and perhaps over the top in its sense of character and dynamics. Forte should never sound like a hard fortissimo - when this happens, the performance may not feel quite as natural and easy going as an excellent one, but will nevertheless have colour and show a good deal of variety.
A sound performance will be up to tempo and will have some musical elements about it. However it may be that there are still some difficulties, which come across in Bars 16 - 19 for example, or that the underpinning groove is not absolutely solid.