"Greensleeves" is the first truly beautiful song most young students receive in my studio. It doesn't matter if it isn't Christmas -- this is a song for the ages! As soon as they can make broken chords with some control, I give them the first page of the Secondo, which is really nothing but repeated broken chords Am, G, F, and E.
I have included the lyrics of verse one of the original song, "Greensleeves," the usual name by which this tune is called, as well as verse one of the later Christmas song lyrics, "What Child is This."
Now first, we'll take a look at the chord accompaniment. This is what my students think Greensleeves IS for a long time - just chords!
Now they have a reason to practice chords! Nothing motivates kids to play like hearing themselves produce wonderful sounds. ( Again, today I have a six-year-old whose playing has improved since his last lesson, because of this Greensleeves piano music. His finger coordination has gained more in one week, because of his desire to play this song, than in weeks and weeks of assigned scales - perhaps because the scales didn't actually happen very often at home!))
If you have prepared them well with a couple of weeks (or more if necessary) of LH - RH broken chords (just as they will use them in Greensleeves), then they will play and play this piece.
Of course, they're not reading the notes! Instead, they are looking at the chord symbols above the notes, and using the notes on the staff as a guide.
Following chord symbols is a musical skill, too, and very important, as any guitar player will tell you. If you limit their musical diet to only what they can read right now, their "plate" won't have much on it! (Some kids will even "starve".)
Plus, you will be sneaking lots of technique practice into their menu without them even suspecting. It takes lots of control to play broken chord tones evenly over and over again.
These are basic piano chords, except for the E major. They are all "white" chords (except for the E major!) and therefore they are the chords of first choice for beginners.
I may silently allow them to turn the E into an E minor chord the first week, in order not to throw too much on their plate. Then, week two of this "easy chords" song, I draw 3 tiny circles above the first E major chord, coloring the middle circle black. (See my piano chords chart to understand my meaning.)
Now, I haven't said much about the Primo part. That's because I consider it quite difficult compared to the Secondo, so I introduce it LONG after.
During lessons and at recitals, this is the part I play (frequently with voice doubling and extra chords). Sometimes I play the melody high above the chord part, but more often I (or they, if they play it) put the melody LOW in the keys, below the chord part.
If you would like to see how I play it with my students, check out the Alphanotes arrangements of this duet on a different page where I have shown 3 different versions: one with all lettered notes, one with some lettered notes, and one that has all the notes that I play when I do the duet with students - it's fancy-sounding, though pretty easy. Those arrangements are stacked like a conductor's score, so you can see where the parts mesh.
Some students will want to try it, but with this piece, their note-reading ability needs to be good. (Or they will need to use the Alphanotes version, farther down the page.) The rhythm and the sharps make it tricky...they will do better with this piece if it is something they WANT to play. (By the way, not many beginners will be able to perform a duet like this one together with another beginner... too many moving notes!)
Many children will recognize this tune, but not be sure where they've hear it before... so we read aloud the Christmas song words, "What Child is This." I tell them that sometimes a melody is so great that people keep writing new words for it, and it stays popular.
Below is a new version of the melody with music note drawings - that is, "Alphanotes" that show you the names of the note. I have also changed the timing to 3/4 instead of 6/4 time. If students are already familiar with the melody of Greensleeves sheet music, then the dotted quarters and eighth notes shouldn't be hard to follow:
I like to play the Primo with them two different ways (where they play the Secondo, and I am the Primo); over the top of the chords, up in the high keys, or down below them in the bass, making the melody heavy enough to carry over their broken chords. In the second example, I like to add my own supporting broken chords down low when we get to page two, to give depth and richness to the piece. See the graphics of that arrangement on my other Greensleeves piano music page.
The Primo was written to stand alone. If it is played with the Secondo, be sure to wait for 10 beats to join in with the chords. ("1-2-3-4-5-6, 1-2-3-4") You teachers will have no problem playing this duet along with your student on either part, but PARENTS and SIBLINGS are likely to struggle with this duet!
You may have noticed that although the Secondo accompaniment is written in 6/8 time, I have turned the Primo melody into 6/4 time so that little ones don't have to worry about the eighth notes.
Here is a video performance of "What Child is This," sung by Andrea Bocelli & Mary J. Blige with still shots from the movie The Nativity Story (the melody starts about 55 seconds in):
This song will be a beautiful musical experience for a beginner. Isn't that what it's all about?
Do you have a funny story about this music, or does it remind you of something you'd like to share with other readers? Do you have a question? I'd love to hear it!
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