Monday, 14 March 2011

7 Tips to play Stephen Foster's Camptown Races [ABRSM grade 1 piano]

Those of you who have seen The King's Speech, will in no doubt recognise the Stephen Foster's American folk song Camptown Races, which the King sings in order to overcome his speech impediment.

Photo: Camptown Races [Credit: jimmywayne (Flickr)]
My 5 year old daughter is learning the piece, which is on the Associated Board Royal Schools of Music [ABRSM] Grade 1 piano repertoire list.

So I include tips of best practice to help you with this piece:

1) This is a folk song afteral, so Get a feel for the character with this Johnny Cash video:

2) Understand the piece - read it's background and lyrics on Wikipedia.
3) Pentatonic scale - the key is Gb - let's immediately reduce the complexity by knowing that all notes in this piece will fall on black notes.
4) Rhythm - this is the most complex aspect of the song. Break the piece into quavers (4 in a bar)  instead of counting in crotchets.
5) Coordination: Make sure you know each hand separately in the correct rhythm
before joining the two hands together.
6) Staccato - make it Bouncy: have a bouncy sound for the staccato elements - make sure you have light relaxed wrists and curved fingers on the black notes (no flat fingers)
7) Marcato section - in the bass clef. This needs to be a different and strong character, I get my daughter to play it imagining singing "I'm the Big Bad Wolf" to this particular phrase.

Here's Alan Chan (no relation) on Youtube performing the piece. My observations and improvements of his performance below.
I think Alan plays the piece fairly well with a good tempo, to improve - perhaps more lighter touch, more dynamic contrast, and the rhythm needs to be tighter at the end.

Here's an excellent and faultless  performance of the piece by PianoPalace on Youtube: .

Good luck, it's a tricky piece!

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