What one single piano piece should I learn?
January 26, 2012 5:10 PM   Subscribe

What one single piano piece should I learn?

I just inherited an old upright. Once upon a time I was a reasonably proficient player (RCM grade 8) but I haven't touched a piano since then. I'd like to learn some music and I figure that if I focus on just one piece maybe I can learn something cool and impress my firends. What one single piano piece should I learn?

I hate Chopin, Mozart and Beethoven. I like Shostakovich and Prokofiev symphonies and movie music, so recommendations for playable piano transcriptions of orchestral music are welcome. Bonus points if the score is available online.
posted by vegetable100% to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps Satie's Gymnopedie no. 1? It has a couple of 4-note chords in the left hand that cover the interval of a 9th, which is bit of a stretch (sorry), but otherwise it's a very easy and nice-sounding piece.
posted by MattMangels at 5:29 PM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

Everbody likes Linus and Lucy (SLYT) by Vince Guaraldi.
posted by falsedmitri at 5:32 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Flight of the Bumblebee! Impressive, not too difficult, very recognizable and popular. Also, by a Russian composer.
posted by foxjacket at 5:33 PM on January 26, 2012

I like this Jason Moran solo piano version of 'Planet Rock.'
posted by box at 5:41 PM on January 26, 2012

I was going to suggest Gymnopedie no. 1 as well.

Or how about Debussy's Golliwogg's Cakewalk?

Or Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C sharp minor is a classic, and a bit more in the Russian sounding vein if that's what you're into.
posted by Lutoslawski at 6:03 PM on January 26, 2012

What immediately jumps to mind was the brief but incredibly charming segment in Dave Chappelle's Block Party in which ?uestlove reveals (with bewildered admiration) that Dave has dedicated his life to learning to play just two pieces of piano music: "Misty" and "Round Midnight." Dave explains:
That was "'Round Midnight" I was playing. That's the Thelonious Monk song. One of my favorite musicians, 'cause his timing was so ill. Every comedian is a stickler for timing, and Thelonious Monk was off time, yet perfectly on time. You should study it. If you're an aspiring comedian, or an aspiring musician, you should study it.
I'm not sure if you're considering jazz, but even if you go with one of the wonderful other recommendations here, you might really like the movie just to see your kindred spirit.
posted by argonauta at 6:45 PM on January 26, 2012

George Shearing has a really nice jazzy version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow
posted by costanza at 7:27 PM on January 26, 2012

Also, 'Fur Elise.' I know you hate Beethoven, so you'll be sure to look all pained and play it all sarcastically and shit.
posted by box at 7:29 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's a little cliché, perhaps, but how about Debussy's Clair de Lune? The rest of the Suite Bergamasque is pretty terrific too.
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:33 PM on January 26, 2012

How do you feel about ragtime? I think you should learn to play Maple Leaf Rag or The Entertainer.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 7:39 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love Joplin's 'Solace' - most people are familiar with it from the 1:55 point on in this video. An exquisitely understated piece of music that you can explore emotionally for a very long time, but is pretty easily acheivable, technique-wise.

Sheet music here, apparently public domain.
posted by pianoboy at 7:43 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

[Sorry about the broken link. Apparently you have to download directly from their site. ]
posted by pianoboy at 7:45 PM on January 26, 2012

Rhapsody in Blue! Sheet music here.
posted by emeiji at 7:45 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your favorite song. And I don't (necessarily) mean some recent hit you've heard a lot on the radio, but I mean that one song that simply makes your heart sing, that evokes strong (negative or positive) emotions, that takes you to another place. Because having that kind of emotion in you when you're playing a piece of music is powerful!
posted by hasna at 7:51 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe something from Prokofiev's Visions fugitives? Or something from the Shostakovich preludes and fugues?
posted by sleepingcbw at 8:22 PM on January 26, 2012

This guy arranged a few pieces from How To Train Your Dragon, which is my favorite film soundtrack of the last couple years.
posted by quoth_the_raven at 8:27 PM on January 26, 2012

Seconding Clair de Lune although playing it properly on an upright will be very hard for two reasons:

1. It requires nuanced/delicate pianissimo of which few uprights, except perhaps one with a Fandrich Vertical Action, are capable.

2. The piece calls for sostenuto or the "middle pedal" which is usually only found on grands. On uprights with a middle pedal, the middle pedal is usually not a sostenuto but a practice or "celeste" that either moves the hammers close to the strings or drops a felt curtain between the hammers and the strings, neither of which is sostenuto or desirable.
posted by bz at 9:22 PM on January 26, 2012

Fur Elise.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:49 PM on January 26, 2012

Theme song from Cheers?
posted by FrotzOzmoo at 9:52 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

For my grade 8 I learned to play some superb pieces. The one that would suit you most is Scriabin's Etude in C Sharp Minor. Not especially tricky, very expressive and dramatic.
posted by fearnothing at 10:53 PM on January 26, 2012

the heck with fer elise, play this beethoven tune while snorting and rolling your eyes at the good bits if you really want to impress.

this song off of it'll end in tears is the single song *i* can play on the piano - it's dead easy, but you really have to sing it too to make it work. plus it's probably not really one to break out at a house party.

i'd say the erik satie piece is a pretty good call really, with linus and lucy as a great follow up.
posted by messiahwannabe at 10:58 PM on January 26, 2012

oh, jeeze, how could i forget to suggest this one! bonus, you can continue the sarcastic snorting and eye rolling.
posted by messiahwannabe at 11:03 PM on January 26, 2012

Albeniz: Iberia

If there is one piece to master, this is it. It has everything. Passion. Subtlety. Melancholy. Drama. Admittedly, I'm obsessed with it. I've bought every performance I can get my hands on. And it's astonishing just how much room for interpretation there is. It seems inexhaustible. It encompasses so much. If you learn this, you will an endless supply of experiences.

My personal favorite interpretation, is by Eduardo Fernandez. That clip is just of Evocacion, and unfortunately YT doesn't have the full Iberia, but look it up, you won't regret it. The performance by Alicia de Laroccha is often cited as authoritative and is pretty good (first link).
posted by VikingSword at 11:13 PM on January 26, 2012

I dont know anything about piano music, but I like Big My Secret from The Piano soundtrack.
posted by leigh1 at 2:56 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am a big fan of Scott Joplin's Bethena Waltz. It's a lot easier than stuff like Maple Leaf Rag, but still fun and pretty, and bound to impress.
posted by solotoro at 3:00 AM on January 27, 2012

The Poltergeist by William Bolcom.

Why? It will sound awesome on an old upright. It's creepy and compelling. It has enough dissonance to mask clams in performance.
posted by plinth at 3:32 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lecuana's Malagueña is not an easy piece--Sheet Music Plus has it as an SMP level 9, so it may be a stretch. But I think it is one of those pieces that sounds harder than it actually is (it's highly repetitive, for one thing), and is just fun, fun, fun to play.
posted by drlith at 4:10 AM on January 27, 2012

...make that Lecuona
posted by drlith at 4:10 AM on January 27, 2012

Scriabin's Sonata No. 4 is strange and beautiful, almost psychedelic (no, really). Sheet music is here.

Seconding Bolcom, particularly his Graceful Ghost Rag. Some play it with swing, some without, but it's definitely worth hearing both approaches.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:39 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

For getting back into the habits and abilities you previously developed, and assuming you still have the sheet music to hand, I can recommend relearning the same pieces as you studied at the point of ceasing to practice. From my own experience (having got to the same point of proficiency as you and having also stopped playing regularly for years) the muscle memories I thought I'd forgotten entirely are still with me. Perhaps the phrasing is less neat than it used to be, and I have to play a little slower, but the memory of how to play each piece, and how it felt to feel the music as I played - those come flooding back, and can help greatly in bolstering confidence that the skills I once had are not entirely lost, and I do have the ability to take those skills and strike out in a new direction.

I thought I hated those pieces I studied for grade 8 with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. But playing those same pieces again now, they've become old and familiar friends.
posted by talitha_kumi at 7:23 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

La Comparsa is a song that really quiets a drinking crowd when it comes up. I've never met anyone, young or old that didn't feel moved by it. This version by Bebo and Chucho Valdes proves how a simple melody can be so infectious, and it sounds nearly as good on an old upright as it does on two quarter-million-dollar Steinways.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 11:34 AM on January 27, 2012

Just a Friend by Biz Markie.
posted by tenaciousd at 7:34 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody
posted by ljesse at 10:00 PM on January 27, 2012

Response by poster: In case anyone is curious, I went with Dvorak's new world symphony which is available in piano transcription form on IMSLP.
posted by vegetable100% at 7:42 AM on February 12, 2012

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