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5 Easy Character Pieces You May Not Know

Here's a list of 5 easy character pieces you may not know. I'm sure your students will love them and you'll get lots of mileage from them. I've chosen these pieces because they're really engaging and rich in pedagogical value.

1. To Begin With (N.v. Wilm) Melody & accompaniment balance, legato, phrasing, weight transfer, thumb control. (Excerpt)

If you're familiar with Robert Schumann's (1810-1856) Album for the Young, op. 68 (1848), you'll immediately see similarities between Melodie, and Nicolay von Wilm's (1834 - 1911) To Begin With, op. 81 no. 1 (1889), featured here. The texture and structure are almost identical, but I dare say that I prefer Wilm's melody and harmony. Wilm was a German composer, pianist, conductor, and professor well-known in his day. To Begin With is the first piece in 24 Little Piano Pieces for Teaching, op. 81. The piece has a simple tuneful melody and an accompaniment that harmonises at the third or sixth with a repeating chord tone played by the thumb in the left hand. There are some lovely transient modulations and mode mixture. I think this piece is quite charming if played slowly, legatissimo, with a beautiful balance between the melody, its harmonisation, and the repeating chord tones. The melody provides the opportunity to develop the cantabile style; every interval can be thoughtfully expressed with every note supported by lots of arm weight.

2. The Chatterbox (C. Reinecke)

Rotation, legato & staccato, speed.


I love this piece! It's fun, fast, humorous, and packed with pedagogical value. A more well-known 'Chatterbox' might be that from Friedrich Burgmüller's (1806-1864) 25 Easy and Progressive Studies, op. 100 (1852), but I think Carl Reinecke's (1824-1910) take on the style is more vivid and exciting. Reinecke was a German composer, teacher, pianist, conductor, respected theoretician and author of several textbooks. He became the director of the Leipzig Conservatory, where he had a lasting impact, transforming the institute into one that was highly regarded across Europe. The Chatterbox is one of the hundreds of works he composed for piano students and has so much to offer pedagogically:

  • realisation of character and all the inherent subtleties

  • coordination of legato and staccato between the two hands throughout

  • sustained rotation of the wrist in the right hand, mostly on intervals of the second

  • lifting of the wrist through implied short slurs.

3. Bantar (C. Gurlitt) Rotation, phrasing, coordination (canon). (Excerpt)

This piece is great for students in the very early stages of learning as the note range is limited to five-finger positions of C. Bantar is a little piece in Cornelius Gurlitt's (1820-1901) instructive work Technique and Melodie, op. 228 (1902). You may already be familiar with some of Gurlitt's works, in particular, opp. 101 and 130. He was a German composer with a large output of pedagogical works, but unlike those before him, such as Carl Czerny (1791 - 1857) and Johann Baptiste Cramer (1771 - 1858), Gurlitt's works tend to have more character and expressive range. Bantar has a simple tune with a limited range of notes and rhythm but can be played very musically. It could easily sound like a note-reading exercise if the expressive markings are not observed. Gurlitt gives the character description 'tranquillo' which I think is captured if the piece is played unhurried, legatissimo, with arm-weight, a warm sound, shaping of every interval, and even wit a little tempo fluctuation. So there's a tonne of pedagogical value right there. Additionally, there's a canon after two solo statements of the theme, so there's an opportunity to teach students about structure and compositional techniques.

4. Wrist Exercise (C. P. Scott)

Wrist suppleness, dyad rapid repetition, stamina.


Rest assured, the piece is more interesting than its title. This little work appears to have unknown origins, and I can't find anything about the composer, Chas P. Scott. All I know is that it may have been published in 1901. Wrist Exercise is similar to the 24th study in John Baptiste Duvernoy's (1802 - 1880) Elementary Studies, op. 176 (1848). This piece is rhythmically driven with unrelenting pulsating dyads in each hand. As the title suggests, this piece is about developing a supple wrist, and it demands quite a bit of stamina for an early-stage piece. Conspicuously missing are expressive markings. I think that's great! It leaves so much to discover. I am certain Scott did not intend for the piece to be played all one dynamic level throughout.

5. Scherzetto (V. Selivanov) Rotation, lightness, speed, legato & staccato. (Except)

Another personal favourite!Scherzetto has a "Christmas vibe" - as my students put it. That probably comes from the Jingle-Bells-esque accompaniment and use of the neighbouring 6th in just about every bar. There seems to be some resemblance to Tchaikovsky's scherzo-like writing, so perhaps there are suggestions of The Nutcracker. Like Wrist Exercise, I couldn't find any information about the composer, V. Selivanov; I searched in Russian, too, and found nothing - not even a first name! Anywhere his name appears in both English and Russian, only the first-name initial accompanies it.

Scherzetto is a fun and lively piece with lots to offer pedagogically. The left-hand part features delicate mezzo-staccato dyads and triads. At the same time, the right hand manages frequent rotations followed immediately by staccato, so there are rapid changes in how the wrist is used. Your students will love it!

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