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Topic: Maple Leaf Rag [help]  (Read 7588 times)

Offline drkz4ck

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Maple Leaf Rag [help]
on: February 20, 2017, 02:56:41 PM
So, I've started learning the Maple Leaf Rag under my teacher. I had already tried to learn it on my own before, but found it too hard.

We started with it in October, I guess, and a while has passed, but there are still difficulties with the left hand (specially in the trio).

I'm on a break from lessons since before christmas and I'm about to get back, but have too little improvement to show. I'm a bit disappointed and also a little embarassed about it...

My forearm gets tense when trying to speed up, so I focus on playing as loose as I can on a manageable speed.
I'm all out of tactics as is, and feels like I'm going nowhere.

Is it normal to be taking such a long time with this? Is there anything I could try out on my practice sessions. My teacher's says I have to loosen up, but that advice on it's own has not helped much.

I'm open to suggestions, thanks everyone =)

Offline themeandvariation

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Re: Maple Leaf Rag [help]
Reply #1 on: February 20, 2017, 05:43:25 PM
"My teacher's says I have to loosen up, but that advice on it's own has not helped much"  
- the jumps in the lh - demand that you look at your hands - and if you don't have it memorized, it is quite possible that there  will be pauses - where you are looking back and forth from the score to the hands and back.. etc.. and unless you are already very good at this technique, it will Also Create Tension..  (many times i see students' shoulders reaching  up to their ears! with this piece…like Frankenstein :)

If you do have it Easily memorized already, and are still having tension, it is because the hands are outstretched most of the time.  It is better to go slower, and focus on releasing the tension.. There can be a certainly 'floppiness' to the motion.  And If there is Still tension, it may be because your hands may be a bit small for this..
I am assuming that tension Is the problem - because of your characterization..  It would be easier to tell what is happening if you were to post a video of you playing.

ps.. you mention: "I'm a bit disappointed and also a little embarassed about it… "
Get over it. Your teacher is there Specifically to Help you!  And your teacher should address very specifically how to work out your problem.  Very specifically!  That is their job to show you, so that You understand! and know exactly what to do!
4'33"

Offline indianajo

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Re: Maple Leaf Rag [help]
Reply #2 on: February 20, 2017, 11:59:23 PM
This is a great piece and I play it 4 or more times a week to help keep my muscles strong and stretched.
However, the synchopation can be confusing if you're not used to playing octaves with the left hand already.  also some octave chord training on the right hand could be a good background.
I started Scott Joplin with Paragon Rag, which is not particularly syncopated. This would be easier.   However I had a good background playing octaves through some arrangements of J P  Sousa etc I played when younger.    
The easier octave prep book I learned on was Everybody's Favorite PIano Pieces for the Young Student #80 published by Amsco Music of NYC, NY, USA.  The arrangers were not credited and this was printed in the forties, so probably not available now. Probably arranged out of the Brill building or up or down the street a building or two. The blocks where Gershwin started getting paid for playing piano as a song plugger.  
If your teacher cannot find suitable octave training material for your skill level, try playing arpeggios in octaves.  Do this in many keys.  Then try playing various inversions of 1.3.5.8 chords in the right hand, in various keys. Boring as can be, but you don't need to buy copywrited material to do those.   When you can do these rapidly you might be ready for Scott Joplin, the easier rags without the rhythm tricks.  
I followed Paragon with Magnetic Rag which is also not synchopated.  I play all three of these most nights to keep my hands & forearms in tune. Also they are not as boring as scales or Czerny exercises.
These two rags were in Belwin Mills Pub co Melville NY  Ragtime Piano co 1963  #11414. Don't start on page 2 with Euphonic Sounds, which is chromatic & hard.  I'd say Hot Scotch   Pepper Sauce or Nighty Night look easier.    
Whatever you do, learn the movements with the hands separately before you put them together. Go slowly enough to not make mistakes, then when you turn the speed screw up the correct movements will be automatic, coming from your inner brain, the parts that lets you walk or catch a ball without thinking about it.   When my hands & arms are doing their tricks automatically, there is no tension.  Just like a seal balancing a ball on its nose, we are related in this physical skill coming from training & repetition. 
Have fun learning.    

Offline drkz4ck

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Re: Maple Leaf Rag [help]
Reply #3 on: February 21, 2017, 01:36:39 AM
I've tried focusing on the floppiness before, but for some reason, letting my wrist go makes it snap and hurt a bit.
I will try it again for a while.
Can't record a video right now, but I will.

My teacher has told me the very same thing about his role, but a little part of me still wanted to give a good impression hahah

Thanks for your help

Offline j_tour

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Re: Maple Leaf Rag [help]
Reply #4 on: February 21, 2017, 02:04:01 AM
So, I've started learning the Maple Leaf Rag under my teacher. I had already tried to learn it on my own before, but found it too hard.

We started with it in October, I guess, and a while has passed, but there are still difficulties with the left hand (specially in the trio).

I'm on a break from lessons since before christmas and I'm about to get back, but have too little improvement to show. I'm a bit disappointed and also a little embarassed about it...

My forearm gets tense when trying to speed up, so I focus on playing as loose as I can on a manageable speed.
I'm all out of tactics as is, and feels like I'm going nowhere.

Is it normal to be taking such a long time with this? Is there anything I could try out on my practice sessions. My teacher's says I have to loosen up, but that advice on it's own has not helped much.

I'm open to suggestions, thanks everyone =)
Awesome!  I believe this might have been the first Joplin I learned all the strains to, and it was certainly the first thing I transcribed from the record (
) by Janice Scroggins.  I almost wish those were preserved -- I definitely remember trying to write down what she played.  I don't know what year I was.  Maybe like 8-9-10 or something -- I don't have a good sense of ages.  I do know it was rewarding for me to learn Janice's introduction, and also, while maybe it doesn't speak to my originality, I enjoyed playing the piece pretty much EXACTLY like she did.  I did it at a piano student recital, family, friends, so I don't know what age that would have put me, but definitely pre-teen.

Good for you!  

I think somebody mentioned it above, but why exactly are you trying to "speed up" again?  If you want my opinion -- and, trust me, you do -- the canonical, Josh Rifkin way is "there's no speeding up in Joplin!"  Nice and easy -- and watch not to accent the obvious notes (I can't think of anything offhand here, but there's some one's that stick out in "Magnetic Rag").

Well, there's clearly a lot of ways you can go with this one -- I learned it Janice Scroggins's (RIP) way, and then later found out about the way Jelly Roll and some others might just go nuts on it, but I think it's a valid piece on its own terms.  

FWIW, more than thirty years after playing my first Joplin, I still keep *Solace*and *The Easy Winners* in my book (even if I cheat on the last because the A strain is the same as "Show me the way to go home", so I don't stick to the script).  There are *Bethena* and *The Magnetic Rag* that I still love, but I to read those with the music, so those are more like fond memories.

What was I saying.  Oh yeah, none of that "speeding up" stuff -- that's a legit style, but you want to make the octaves in, like the B strain IIRC not choppy, like in a Hollywood Western movie, but nice and smooth.

ETA, no, there's no "right" timeline -- some piece spend their whole life on this.  Listening to Scroggins's recording again, it reminds me, this isn't all that easy a piece to begin with.  I'd put it up there with most of Schumann's Kinderszenen for sure.  And to play it with feeling.  

And there's always that extra step that Joplin wouldn't have liked, but you can always annoy your neighbors and try to play it in the style of a whorehouse "naked dance" whle improvising!  ETA DO NOT EVER do what I just found as "Ragtime Piano In the Street" by some white skinny guy in suspenders on youtube.  Believe it or not, some of us actually don't enjoy being lumped in with Ren-faire enthusiasts or "eccentrics" of any kind -- well, to each his or her own, but I happen to think attitude counts for some ways in performing music, so if you're going to play it, play it cool, and play it good, and as Albert King said, "play it pretty."

Plus, once you get done this is still ETA with having your version of "Maple Leaf Rag," you'll be ahead of the game when it comes to playing other fun stuff in Ab, like "All About My Girl" and stuff. 
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Offline ted

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Re: Maple Leaf Rag [help]
Reply #5 on: February 21, 2017, 03:58:31 AM
Many years ago, I used the following exercise for these left hand movements. Take any chord at the top and commence with an octave close to it, actual notes don't matter. Shift the octaves down a semitone each jump while maintaining tempo (not too fast at first) to as wide a leap as you can manage for a good sound without discomfort. If it feels awkward, shift the octaves back upwards. Repeat the exercise as part of your technical work each day as you would your scales and other exercises. Keep things light, detached and clear at first until an easy arc motion becomes second nature. A few weeks should suffice.
"Mistakes are the portals of discovery." - James Joyce

Offline lhet

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Re: Maple Leaf Rag [help]
Reply #6 on: February 23, 2017, 01:48:44 AM
If your forearms are getting tense that means they are doing too much work. Try lifting your hand up 6+ inches during each jump, setting your fingers into the right position up there, and dropping your hand into place, not moving your fingers or using any downwards force once the drop has begun. It'll be horribly inaccurate to play this way at first, but it should help with tension issues.

Offline drkz4ck

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Re: Maple Leaf Rag [help]
Reply #7 on: February 25, 2017, 10:09:55 PM
Sorry for the holdup. Been a bit sick the past few days.

So I tried to make a short video of me playing the trio section, as themeandvariatio suggested.

I've memorized the socre, but not well enough spatially to play much faster than this.
Also, the pain and tension make me make more mistakes.

Anyway, open to suggestions and avice =)

(can't figure this one out  :-X)

https://youtu.be/TFJniGCm8tE

Offline indianajo

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Re: Maple Leaf Rag [help]
Reply #8 on: February 26, 2017, 02:52:55 AM
Your hand position and posture look fine.
Your hands look bigger than mine, with the much more conventional long middle finger that Europeans have. 
I don't know why you are experiencing so much pain.  You're bouncing the left hand, playing with the forearm instead of the fingers, which is how I do it. 
The more you do, the more you can do I suppose. 
Again, practice slowly enough you don't make mistakes. No fun, but that is how the mistakes are driven out of your memory.  Ten correct run throughs make it possible to turn the speed up 10% for the next bout of practice. 
Wish I could show you mine, but after I found the really good microphone the computer died, and I'm stll fooling around installing operating systems to find one that both shows videos like this one, and allows recording with Audacity & some vidio package.  The old op system wouldn't play u-tube, "your flash player is obsolete please update" which didn't work. 

Offline j_tour

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Re: Maple Leaf Rag [help]
Reply #9 on: February 26, 2017, 05:54:28 AM
Sorry to disagree, but no, in my experience, the hand positions and posture don't look fine.  In fact they look like problems.

Let's talk about the problems I think are bigger, though:  dynamics are absolutely IMHO out of control.  Wildly jolting accents on notes. 

An exercise I would try -- I haven't tried it on a student, because I never had one who wanted to play a Joplin rag "straight off the page" -- just take all the chord changes, and forget about how it's written.  Hit the bass chord-tone bass notes, and choose whatever inversion you like for the upper part.

I don't care for the tempo, either -- it sounds like Debussy's "Jimbo's Lullaby," sort of precise, but halting and uncertain.

My only recommendation is to listen to how people actually play the piece, and try to copy it.  A more advanced if only slightly more advanced technically exercise might be to play the same chords in a different key....maybe F, maybe whatever you want, and see how close you can get to capturing the overall feel of the piece.

I'm not trying to be negative -- I think you did a good thing putting your efforts here, it's just maybe I'm coming from the mainstream of the whole hundred-odd years of tradition from records and specialists and am not hearing something i can recognize as part of that tradition here.

Not yet, anyway.
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Offline themeandvariation

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Re: Maple Leaf Rag [help]
Reply #10 on: February 26, 2017, 08:33:30 AM
lhet -
Thank you for posting the video. From what i can see, there is a suppleness to your movement, though i can't see if your shoulders are tense.   Of course, you may feel that the tempo is slow, but how are you experiencing the 'tension' in this recording?  Is it gone?  If it is, then you just gradually let the speed come to you - keeping on as you are..
IF you are experiencing tension, (it doesn't appear to be from a memory struggle, as your beat is pretty smooth) so then i would try employing that 'floppy' motion - exaggerated at first.  
Dynamics are something to be employed - especially with a piece like this- when you are comfortable..
(A side note, check there left hand part of the first ending of the trio.. just a memory slip, I'm sure.)

As far as J Tour's remarks, i could see, AFTER learning how Joplin wrote, - abridging some arrangement to suit one's fancy, or understand chord structures .. though this is definitely not necessary.
J Tour - This is a person IN The Process  of learning this piece.. Some of your advise here - to my mind - is really off base - in applying to where OP is in this process. You imply that you teach?  .. really?  Much?  perhaps some R&R, yes?
4'33"

Offline themeandvariation

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Re: Maple Leaf Rag [help]
Reply #11 on: February 26, 2017, 09:16:34 AM
PS..
J Tour: you mention:
 "but no, in my experience, the hand positions and posture don't look fine.  In fact they look like problems."
 But you don't address what is wrong with how 'they' look to you.. Why not?
 You mention:
  "Let's talk about the problems I think are bigger, though:  dynamics are absolutely IMHO out of control.  Wildly jolting accents on notes."  
And Somehow you think the bigger problem is getting the dynamics - as opposed to if a person is feeling tension?  (btw, the score implies that this trio section is relatively loud)
Did you know that at a slower speed, the syncopation naturally sounds 'jolting'?

Then, You mention this bag of confusion:
  "An exercise I would try -- I haven't tried it on a student, because I never had one who wanted to play a Joplin rag "straight off the page" -- just take all the chord changes, and forget about how it's written. "
What? You haven't tried it - (a lead sheet?) but you never had a student who wanted to play it off the page?  So what are we left with then -- No Lead sheet, And no score? But now you want this OP to reduce it to a lead sheet -w/o knowing their understanding of harmony/theory? -- even though you haven't tried it on a student? Also, and importantly, if "you just take all the chord changes, and forget about how it's written"-- then you lose the counterpoint line in the octave bass  that Joplin so carefully composed as a foil against the rh melody.

You mention:
  "Hit the bass chord-tone bass notes…"  one should be clear when offering advice.

You mention;
"  A more advanced if only slightly more advanced technically exercise might be to play the same chords in a different key....maybe F, maybe whatever you want, and see how close you can get to capturing the overall feel of the piece."
So at this point you recommend for the OP to transpose this trio in 5 flats - to F major - w/o even knowing their ability to do such - And to do this for the purpose of "capturing the overall feel of the piece."  How would this exercise achieve this 'capturing'?  (not to mention the time it may take the OP to undertake such an exercise)
Then if all this weren't enough - you say "hundred-odd years of tradition from records and specialists and am not hearing something i can recognize as part of that tradition here."
This is just a big bowl of wrong, - if you can't recognize it! - ..  (and a teacher should understand about a work in progress.
Go chop some wood.

 
  
4'33"

Offline hardy_practice

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Re: Maple Leaf Rag [help]
Reply #12 on: February 26, 2017, 09:20:46 AM
You play with such accuracy and musicality!  Well done.  I don't think you know how to use your arms though.  You think you are using your arm then you suddenly 'grab' with the fingers instead.  I've always felt Joplin must of had a fine Chopin player as his teacher.
B Mus, PGCE, DipABRSM

Offline hardy_practice

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Re: Maple Leaf Rag [help]
Reply #13 on: February 26, 2017, 10:30:22 AM
I done you this LH:


The finger muscles (extensors and flexors) are only used to preserve the shape of the fingers NOT to put the keys down! The arm flicks up the hand on the bass notes and drops it down on the chords - achieving both with ONE up/down movement.  The skill is relaxing after each bass/chord.
B Mus, PGCE, DipABRSM

Offline drkz4ck

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Re: Maple Leaf Rag [help]
Reply #14 on: February 27, 2017, 02:46:28 AM
I'm really happy there's so much feedback!

Again, practice slowly enough you don't make mistakes. No fun, but that is how the mistakes are driven out of your memory. 
Yes, I've really got to get into the habit of slowing down to avoid mistakes. Some of my mistakes happen because lack of accuracy, while others my hands just seem to sort of "snap" all of a sudden. Must be tension somewhere, I suppose.

I'd really like to listen and see you playing any piece, so if you have anything to show, I'd apreciate  :)




Let's talk about the problems I think are bigger, though:  dynamics are absolutely IMHO out of control.  Wildly jolting accents on notes. 

I admit that my voicing is not quite to my liking. Maybe I should focus on such details first before speeding it up a bit.
But I have to admit, I couldn't quite spot the jolting accents you mention at first. I have to listen to it more carefully, it seems.

On the other hand, it sounds much better than I thought before recording. I'm looking forward to make it even better now!

I didin't understand your exercise about inversions, could you explain it to me again, please?




From what i can see, there is a suppleness to your movement, though i can't see if your shoulders are tense.   Of course, you may feel that the tempo is slow, but how are you experiencing the 'tension' in this recording?

I didn't know in what angle I should've recorded it. I had no idea how much or how little was actually relevant to be seen, so I just tried to copy the angle I see in most youtube videos out there.

There is tension at this speed indeed. I'm thinking of slowing down and then try the floppinnes factor. How would you suggest it be done?

BTW, for some reason filming it makes me a bit nervous. There were memory slips alright hahah




You play with such accuracy and musicality!  Well done.  I don't think you know how to use your arms though.  You think you are using your arm then you suddenly 'grab' with the fingers instead.

Thnak you!  :)
You mean I'm actually grabbing at the keys? I didn't notice that, but now that you mention it, maybe it's noticeable in the 5th finger (?)

In any case, your video suggests an interesting approach. I've tried preparing all left hand notes with a higher wrist, but when I do that on the bass octaves, my thumbs point outward, making it hard to play. But the chords on the seem fine.




It's great that you guys took the time to give advice! Thank you all!!
Gives me more reason not to give up on this piece again ^^

Offline hardy_practice

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Re: Maple Leaf Rag [help]
Reply #15 on: February 27, 2017, 08:22:32 AM
You 'flick' up the bass notes from a low wrist and drop on the chords from a high wrist.
B Mus, PGCE, DipABRSM

Offline j_tour

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Re: Maple Leaf Rag [help]
Reply #16 on: February 28, 2017, 06:36:03 PM
I didin't understand your exercise about inversions, could you explain it to me again, please?

Thanks for not taking my critique in bad spirit -- I can be a bit of a dick, but I do mean well.

My idea for inversions is to try to abstract away from the notes on the page and just focus on the movements in the LH.  An advantage in using different chord inversions of perhaps different fragments of the same chord inversion is that you'll be better able to hear the fundamental harmony and, at some other date, or perhaps now, use chord substitutions (that can be pretty advanced -- see Monk's "Trinkle Tinkle" for an example), but as a practical matter, you'll never ever "get lost" in performance if you can't quite remember the exact chord voicing used from the score -- you can use an equivalent chord and it will sound fine.

So, basically, you'd just be playing the piece like normal, and maybe as an exercise, try to just hit the proper harmonies using the oom-pah LH pattern.  Maybe that can help free you up a little to concentrate on other things, or focus part of your mind on the harmonies and the unique things Joplin does with chromatic motion in the bass, maybe even work towards more advanced stuff like transposing to another key, or whatever might be something you might like to do in the future (although, TBH, I don't know anyone who does that!)

FWIW, I brought out the sheet music to this last night -- I sort of made it through the piece after how many decades -- that's the best that can be said for my hacking through it -- but not anywhere near as "correct" as you.  One thing I noticed is that I couldn't get away from a jazz kind of swing to it, which is probably not the right way to do it, but it made it easier for me to try to fluff over some of the chorded melodies in the RH.  You might try as a laugh experimenting with some stylistic variations, just because you've obviously got the notes down, and it could be fun.

i'm glad you're keeping this great music alive.

ETA about the "jolting" rhythms -- that was a bad way to put it, and I don't know how to describe it, I just would prefer to hear nice smooth, melodic lines in the broken chords in the RH.  As though they were a single melodic line played by, I don't know, a horn or something.  More smoothness all around -- look at Tatum or somebody, he'll play something very smooth and melodic, and then erupt into some angular cascade.  That's kind of the dialectic of ragtime to me -- those two aspects.  I think that's the idea behind the many areas in Joplin's music where he'll vamp on some syncopated chords, or do some little diminished arpeggios in thirds split between two hands).  It'd be wilder in improvised "whorehouse" playing, but it's kind of Joplin's nod to that style in a more "proper" setting.
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Offline lhet

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Re: Maple Leaf Rag [help]
Reply #17 on: February 28, 2017, 08:49:39 PM
Another thing I notice is that you're moving your hand into place, setting your fingers on the chord/octave, then, then hitting them. It kinda guarantees accuracy at low speeds, but really won't scale to a higher speed, where you won't be able to stop for that split second and make sure your fingers are right. It might actually help to just practice with your eyes closed.

Offline hardy_practice

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Re: Maple Leaf Rag [help]
Reply #18 on: February 28, 2017, 10:13:34 PM
It kinda guarantees accuracy at low speeds, but really won't scale to a higher speed, where you won't be able to stop for that split second
Why?  How long is a split second?
B Mus, PGCE, DipABRSM

Offline j_tour

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Re: Maple Leaf Rag [help]
Reply #19 on: February 28, 2017, 11:29:02 PM
Let's see.

Who has good questions:  OP = drkz4ck

Who sounds like a teenager:  Tom Hardy or whatever his name is.


My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Offline hardy_practice

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Re: Maple Leaf Rag [help]
Reply #20 on: March 01, 2017, 06:33:13 PM
So no split second timing for j_tour?  Each to his/her own....
B Mus, PGCE, DipABRSM

Offline j_tour

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Re: Maple Leaf Rag [help]
Reply #21 on: March 04, 2017, 11:51:01 PM
Oh, I see how that looks.  No, I think I understand your point now -- I doubt I've understood, but maybe we're on the same page.

I think there should be no "split second" subdividing to get everything right in ragtime and later stride/improv piano.  That's the whole point of my little practice technique, which, as I said, is just practical experience, since I never taught anybody a whole rag.  

Get the rhythm right LH, hit the correct chords, in whatever inversion, and then you get the luxury of playing around with melodic fragments, whether it's in RH or creating some motion with the LH.

ETA here's another exercise:  watch the movie *Jaws* and then play "Show me the Way To Go Home" using the Joplin LH technique you've learned, just improvise the melody.  Do it in Ab.  It's not that hard -- then you see Joplin had some nice little subtleties written into his scores.


My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.
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