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Among the volumes of classic teaching pieces for upper elementary students, is a charming composition, widely taught because of the valuable musical challenges it presents. Arabesque, Op. 100, No. 2, by Johann Friedrich Franz Burgmuller (1806-1874), is a delightful etude, ideal for students with small hands and developing fingers. Because of its pedagogical value for teaching evenness and clarity in five-finger patterns, developing a relaxed wrist and firm fingertips, generating a clear melodic line and observing precise articulations, it has become a "go to" teaching piece. But, while students enjoy it, teachers often tire of it.

Offered here are several valuable alternatives to teaching Arabesque--all requiring similar technical and musical challenges. These suggestions will expand the teaching repertoire while encouraging students to develop these important skills

--Geri A. Gibbs, NCTM, is a member of the AMT Editorial Committee and an independent music teacher from North Salt Lake, Utah.

No wonder Arabesque by Burgmuller is one of the beloved classics of piano etudes! Some of the technical and musical challenges of it are also featured in some lesser-known repertoire.

Scherzo written by contemporary French composer, Celine Bussieres-Lessard, is a wonderful alternative. This short piece employs minor five finger positions in both hands as well as legato, staccato and slurred articulations. Simple left-hand chord changes accompany the right-hand melodic figures in the A section and is reversed in the B section. It is a delightful alternative to Arabesque that is very similar in terms of musical challenges. Bussieres-Lessard's piano repertoire is featured in Keyboard Musicianship (Stipes Publishing).

The "Fughetta in E Minor" by Domenico Zipoli (found in The Baroque Spirit Book One by Nancy Bachus, published by Alfred Publishing Co., Inc.) is a sophisticated alternative. The fugue subject is in E minor and is primarily based upon a five-finger position.

Little Shepherd, Op. 28 by Samuel Maykapar presents many of the musical features inherent in Arabesque. This short etude in G major requires 16th-note passage work in both hands as well as a variety of touches.

Etude of Rapid Five Finger Groups by Donald Waxman is very rhythmic and provides a vehicle for exploring various articulations. This piece would work well with a mid- to upper-intermediate student who enjoys the challenges of rapid changes.

While the Arabesque is a fundamental part of the young pianist's repertoire you may find one of these alternatives a delightful diversion!

--Debra Ronning, NCTM, is director of keyboard studies and a lecturer in music at Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.

Fingers Chasing Fingers (Schaum Sheet) by Frank Levin offers an opportunity for students to work on five-finger skills in three flats, where hard earned hand-positions sometimes fall a little ... flat. Written in a canon-like form, benefits of this piece include challenges for the left hand as well as the right, especially when played up to tempo. A refreshing alternative to Arabesque is "Ragtime Arabesque" by Kenon D. Renfrow (Repertoire and Ragtime Book 1, Alfred Publishing Co., Inc.), which is based on the original but with "ragged" rhythms and a cute four-bar introduction. The book also includes Burgmuller's original Arabesque, as well as other jazzed-up traditional selections. Lastly, for a slightly harder challenge, try White Heat (Alfred Publishing Co., Inc.) by Robert Vandall. Leave it to Vandall to create a piece that's the piano teacher's equivalent of sneaking pureed vegetables into pancakes: a five-finger scale marathon that kids go crazy for. Note that the accompaniment for the left hand requires a stretch of an octave.

--Suzanne Winegar Clive has a master of music degree in piano performance from the New England Conservatory, and is an independent piano teacher in Boise, Idaho.

Burgmuller's Arabesque is a well-loved standard piece for late-elementary piano students, but there are also a few repertoire pieces from the early 20th century that could serve as a precursor or alternative choice. These pieces can still satisfy the budding young virtuoso's desire for a not-too-hard yet dazzling piece.

Alec Rowley's Little Fantasy Study, Op. 13, No. 2, entitled "Up Hill, Down Dale" as found in Expressive Etudes, Book Five, edited by Suzanne Guy (FJH Music Company), is an ideal introductory piece to late-elementary virtuoso style. This little repertoire gem, set in A minor, is in rounded binary form and utilizes quick ascending and descending five-finger patterns in both the right and left hands. These five-note impulse groups or "scoops" are coordinated with chords that occur only on the first note of each group, thus offering an easier technical challenge than Arabesque.

Two pieces that are attractive alternatives to Arabesque are found in Dmitri Kabalevsky's 24 Pieces for Children, Op. 39. "Galop," No. 18, is a humorous and lively romp in C major, focusing on right-hand challenges, which include five-note scoops, smaller fingerwork loops with the quick repetition of the first three fingers, as well as quick crossovers and leaping intervals. "Prelude," No. 19, is a workout for the left hand. With its nearly unrelenting legato five finger patterns in G and C minor, the performer must also "tap their heads, and rub their tummies" as they coordinate a light staccato melody in the right hand.

--Helen Chao-Casano, NCTM, is the Southwest Division director-elect and teaches piano at Punahou Music School in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Technical exercises are often the most effective way to introduce elements found in standard repertoire. Two favorite composers of such studies are Carl Czerny and Henry Lemoine, both of whom wrote numerous examples addressing finger independence. For instance, Czerny's Op. 599, No. 16 and Lemoine's Op. 37, No. 6 follow similar scale patterns to those found in Burgmuller's Arabesque.

If etudes are not appealing, Bela Bartok is always a great resource for thorough work in five-finger patterns, particularly in his multi-volumed cycle of piano works: Mikrokosmos (Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Ltd.) Contrapuntal pieces found in the first two volumes are a great way to build finger independence before introducing further scale patterns, as in his "Meditation" from Volume II. Although not following identical scale motions as the Burgmuller, it does exploit a similar technical issue--the alternation of melodic material from right to left hand. Additionally, it focuses on two distinct five-finger patterns, F minor and A-flat major, which transition smoothly through pattern repetition and balanced motion on third fingers.

Finally, I offer a piece written by the 21st-century composer Jon George. "Rushing Brook" from A Day in the Forest (Alfred Publishing Co., Inc.) demonstrates five-finger passage work across two or three patterns, in the right and left hands respectively. Refraining from clearly defined "positions," George has each hand playing in different key areas while ensuring thumb-crossings occur in succession, fourth fingers land together on black keys in stronger metrical positions, and the structure remains a clear A-B-A-coda.

--Shannon Hesse is assistant professor of piano and keyboard area coordinator at Houston Baptist University

Burgmuller's Arabesque focuses on 5 primary technical issues:

1. Finger independence

2. Evenness in repeated triads

3. Hand independence playing counterpuntal melodies

4. Accents and syncopations

5. Rapid hand extensions and contractions.

Below are some alternatives that still provide the student with flashy and enjoyable recital repertoire.

Two pieces from Kabalevsky's Op. 27 are excellent substitutes. The "Toccatina" No. 12 requires a smooth legato left-hand melody played against light offbeat triads in the right hand, while "Scherzetto" No. 13 demands rapid pentascale execution in both hands.

Alessandro Scarlatti's four variations on "La Folia" address these same obstacles (Alfred Publishing Co., Inc., The Baroque Spirit Book I, Nancy Bachus). Pay particular attention to the left-hand melody against repeated triads in the third variation, and the use of pentascales in the fourth variation.

Carl Maria von Weber's "Scherzo" (The Classical Spirit Book I) challenges the student with triads, parallel scale passages and accented notes followed by slurred stretches.

Fritz Spindler's two movement Sonatina, Op. 157, No. 1 rewards the student with a lengthy and dramatic show piece that also develops independent fingers and hands while promoting a wide tonal palette.

Finally, three contemporary pieces deserve performance. "Jogging Along" No. 69 from Paul Creston's Rhythmicon Vol. 4 along with "ZigZag" and "Larrikin" from Elissa Milne's last volume of Little Peppers challenge the students with irregular meters, jazz rhythms and syncopations all while developing strong staccato and five-finger patterns.

Hopefully these pieces will provide your students hours of discovery and enjoyment.

--Khoren Ouzounian is an independent piano teacher and founder of The Musician's Academy International in The Woodlands, Texas.
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Title Annotation:Professional Resources
Publication:American Music Teacher
Date:Feb 1, 2013
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