Composer Notes

Have you ever played a piece and wondered what was on the composer's mind as they were creating it? The purpose of these Composer Notes is to give you insight into the creative process behind the music in my piano books. The entries are a mixed bag of teaching hints, musical influences, alternate fingerings, structural analyses, and the care that went into creating collections suitable for teaching, learning and performing.

Click to enlarge the original manuscripts, listen to sound clips, and click on the link to the books page to find out how to order your copy. I am working on three new titles right now, and will upload the note entries for those books at the time of their release. Play on!

Black Light — Intermediate (Grade 5) d minor 4/4

November 14, 2002 Black was the second Color Collection piece I began. On November 14 I composed the first three measures as you see them, and eight other measures that were cut. On March 11, 2003, I composed nine more measures that were cut. I continued to play Black from time to time, with new notes and rhythms, but I wasn’t sure about them. Finally, on June 29, 2003, I decided I liked what I had been playing and wrote it out once more, up to measure 11, beat 1. After that I simply couldn’t decide what to do. This time I left blank space in my book so I could add more later. More than a year later, on October 20, 2004, I completed the final measures. I think this one was so tricky to compose because I wanted to balance the darkness with the beauty. There is a programmatic purpose for the through-composed structure and the departure from the opening key of d minor to the final chord on E. When wind blows, it ends up far from where it started.


Available as part of The Color Collection.

Blue Train — Early Intermediate (Grade 3) C Major 4/4

November 11, 2002 The first Color Collection piece I attempted to create was Blue. On November 10 my husband, Paul, heard me trying to compose it and he simply hated what he heard. It was dissonant and asymmetrical. He made me stop. Point taken. This was a turning point for me as a composer. In university I had studied the composition techniques composers have been taught for the past seventy-five years, and at this moment I went with my gut and abandoned it all. The next day, November 11, I began again, this time with a twelve-bar bluesy groove. “That’s it!” Paul said. A composer was re-born.


Available as part of The Color Collection.

Hot, Hot Buns — Early Intermediate (Grade 4) e minor 8/8

November 30, 2009 I stapled together a little mock book and noticed there was room for one more piece. I still wanted a piece in the Latin/Caribbean style, and thought about the Arrow song Hot Hot Hot. Why not Hot, Hot Buns with a Latin feel? We were listening to Buena Vista Social Club in anticipation of a trip south, and the minor, tragically sweet sounds had me transfixed. I divided the Hot Cross Buns tune, and extended each part into a sequence, the descending "hot cross buns" notes in the A section, the ascending "one a penny" notes in the B section. The piece is easier than it looks, because it is simply made of cool patterns that repeat on different chords. When I was a kid I was spooked by complicated-looking notation like the 8/8 time signature and eighth note groupings. No problem - once you hear this piece you will understand the dance in it, and you will be infected by the rhythmic groove.


Available as part of Old MacDonald had the Blues.

R & B Baby — Early Intermediate (Grade 4) D Major 3/4

November 07, 2009 I had long wanted Rockabye Baby in the collection, but couldn't figure out a way to make the title and the music work. Rock was already in the title, but I always heard the music in a Latin 4/4 style. But the title wouldn't work, and I was tired of 4/4. Rockabye was already in three, and I wanted to keep that feel. The other problem to solve was the melodic span, too wide for young hands. I chose the key of D to allow the melody to cross the middle of the staff, divided between the hands. It was a Saturday night and I let the family go upstairs without me for bedtime. I wanted to have quiet time to compose, which I didn't often get. I think the personal sound in the lullaby reflects just how much I enjoyed this time. Paul solved the title challenge, R for Rock and B for Bye. Rhythm and Blues has some gorgeous tunes, like I'll Be There sung by the Jackson 5 or Mariah Carey, and I hope students like the soul in this one.

R & B Baby 

Available as part of Old MacDonald had the Blues.

Mary had a Little Jam — Elementary (Grade 1) C major 4/4

November 06, 2009 It is so difficult to compose for the early piano levels. There were several strategies I used to keep Mary accessible for younger learners. First, the key of C offers a clean slate on which the accidentals can stand out. The RH tune carries the musical momentum, with a swing and fun anticipation ties. The LH texture is kept to a minimum, for the most part harmonizing only on the first and third beats. Notice that G is the top note of each LH interval. This anchored thumb will help the student with the physical feel of the other intervals, including hand extension at the sixth interval. The key of C also offers the opportunity to reinforce the reading of sign-post C notes, the space Cs and outside ledger Cs.

Mary had a Little Jam 

Available as part of Old MacDonald had the Blues.

 < previous Page 3 of 6: 1 2 3 4 5 6  next >