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Piano Lesson 35: Simplifying Chords and Expressing Emotion in Your Playing

By Gaili Schoen May 08, 2024 Hobbies

Welcome to piano lesson 35! Today I discuss simplifying your left-hand chords, and playing with increased expression, in the Barcarole on p.88 of our Upper Hands Piano, BOOK 1.

[NOTE: If you are just joining us for the first time, you can find my previous Sixty and Me Free Piano Lessons on my Author pages. You can join our lessons any time and move at your own pace!]

35.1 Simplifying Chords and Playing the Piano the Way an Actor Acts

I love the Barcarole on p.88, which is called Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour (“Beautiful night, oh night of love”). It comes from the opera, Tales of Hoffman by the French composer, Jacques Offenbach. In my arrangement I keep the left-hand chords simple, just as Offenbach does in his orchestral piece.

Notice that the two sopranos in this performance sing with such exuberant emotion, immersing the audience in the beauty and joy of the music. Once you have learned the notes and rhythm of a piece, you can, like an actor or opera singer, express strong emotions through your performance by imagining you are in the time and situation of the piece, or by connecting to the emotions of the piece from your own life experience.

If you are playing a joyful piece, you can imagine a joyful situation as you play. If it is a sad or furious piece, you can likewise conjure these emotions from past experiences in your life, to create these emotions in your playing. I discuss this technique in my video:

35.2 Barcarole Demonstration, p.88

Here I demonstrate the Barcarole with the repeats, as written. Notice that you play the first 2 lines twice (they are repeated ||: :||), then you play the third and fourth lines twice (||: :||) Next you take the D.C. al Fine which means restart from the beginning, and play to the Fine. Once again, we play the first 2 lines twice (they are again repeated ||: :||) before ending the piece at the Fine.

35.3 Reviewing Rhythm on p.53

This week I’d like you to turn back to p.53 to do the “Rhythm Review” again. Rhythm is perhaps the most difficult thing to learn correctly when studying music as an adult, so reviewing is important. I made two demonstration videos for this page back in piano lessons 15 and 16:

p.53, Lines 1-3:

p. 53, Lines 4-7:

Passion Practice

  1. Exercise #2 (Appendix iii) in A-flat and E-flat, with hands together.
  2. p.88 – Play the Barcarole with hands separately and together. Be sure to observe the repeat signs and D.C. al Fine, as described in 35.2 above.
  3. Practice playing the “Rhythm Review” on p.53 on any random note or chord. Watch the videos for lines 1-3 and lines 4-7 to check that you are playing the rhythms correctly.
  4. Chord Calisthenics #4 – (Appendix viii) Play the first line of the minor triads with hands together. See if you can play each of the six minor triads (Cm, Gm, Dm, Am, Em, Bm) from memory without looking at the letters, by the end of the second week.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you feel comfortable expressing emotion in your piano playing? What emotions does the Barcarole evoke in you? Does it feel relaxing? Pensive? Sad? Joyous? Nostalgic? Is there a way you might move your body, use your imagination, or use dynamics or tempo to express your emotions?

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How do I find the appendices?

Gaili / UpperHandsPiano

Hi Linda – the appendices start after p.98, at the back of the book. Best, Gaili

The Author

Gaili Schoen is a passionate piano teacher and learning science researcher. She has written a piano instruction series called Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul. Learn more at Follow her blog for free monthly sheet music and practice tips:

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