March FREE Sheet Music: Star of the County Down

Kylemore Abbey, Ireland

Hello Piano Lovers!

It’s March, and I’m enjoying practicing Irish tunes for a few upcoming St. Patrick’s Day gigs. Though I already have two Irish folksongs — Red Is The Rose and Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral — posted on the Free Sheet Music page of the website, I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to offer you one more Irish beauty: Star of the County Down. Van Morrison and The Chieftains made a great recording of it in 1988, but I love when it is played as a slow waltz. I wrote two arrangements, one easy, the other intermediate. 

If you’re a subscriber to my blog, thanks very much! I hope you are finding the practice tips, cognitive science connections, and free sheet music helpful. If you have arrived here via a link from social media, could you take a second to leave a comment telling me where you linked from? Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn? To thank you I’ll send you free sheet music for The Irish Washerwoman. My students often play it as a fun exercise in every key! 

PRINT Star of the County Down HERE

There is some question as to whether the lyrics are in the public domain so I didn’t include them. But if you would like to have them, click here

Since we’re celebrating the Irish influence in America this month, is there an element of Irish culture that makes your heart sing? Do you have a favorite Irish book (Ulysses, Angela’s Ashes, The Country Girls, Brooklyn, Waiting for Godot, Circle of Friends)? Author (Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Edna O’Brien, Bram Stocker, W.B. Yeats, Maeve Binchy, Oscar Wilde)? Song (Danny Boy, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, She Moved Through The Fair, Si Bheg Si Mor, Rocky Road to Dublin, Lagan Love, Sailor’s Hornpipe)? Band (U2, The Dubliners, The Chieftains, Sinead O’Connor, The Bothy Band, Planxty)? Films (The Quiet Man, The Secret of Kells, The Crying Game, Once, My Left Foot, The Commitments, Waking Ned Devine, Ryan’s Daughter)? There is so much of Irish culture to enjoy. As soon as the Oscars are over I just might have to re-watch The Secret of Roan Inish! That is one of my all-time favorite films, filled with music and magic. 

Next week I will be back in your inbox with some new practice tips from my latest research in learning science. Hope you enjoy the last weeks of winter wherever you are!

With love and music, Gaili

Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul



Mise en place

Dear Piano Lovers:

I just finished reading an interesting book called Practice Like This: 35 Effective Ways To Get Better Faster by Jonathan Harnum, PhD. It’s a book about practicing in general– sports, games, painting, music, cooking, etc.– but the author is a trumpet player, so his practice strategies are all applicable to the musician. In the coming weeks I will share what I think are the most valuable practice tips for us piano players.

As a passionate foodie, I was immediately attracted to Harnum’s use of the chef’s term, Mise en placeMise en place is a French culinary phrase which means “everything in its place.” It refers to the set up required before preparing a meal as well as the organizing of a kitchen.


My daughter runs an amazingly delicious Mediterranean restaurant in the Hamptons area of New York called Calissa that features an open kitchen (above left and center) and its fast food sister restaurant near Grand Central Station called Amali Mou (above right). I find it fascinating to watch the chefs as they create their gorgeous meals. Though they are feeding as many as 250 people at any given time, everything they need seems to be at their fingertips. As Harnum writes: “When things get hot and heavy in a busy kitchen, there’s no time to hunt for your cracked pepper or your sharpened paring knife.”

A good chef, baker or cook knows that in order to be efficient and focused, they must assemble all of the tools and ingredients they need before preparing a tasty dish. 


A kitchen must be clean, and well organized 

so that the chef knows where everything is and feels inspired to work her culinary magic.

Likewise, says Harnum, for a musician: “If you adopt the mise-en-place approach in your practice, you can toss off a quick practice session with no setup time.”

As pianists, we don’t always have a lot of choice as to where we can put our pianos, but they should ideally be kept in a place where we can readily sit down and play for 5 or 10 minutes. It’s best to keep your instrument in an area where you will constantly see it; people whose pianos or keyboards are in basements or converted garages tend to practice less, because they simply forget about it! On the other hand, if a piano is in the same room as a television or another popular family entertainment feature, our playing might be prevented or interrupted, and the practice opportunity is lost. If your piano is in a living room or den, you might want to consider purchasing a small keyboard with headphones that you can keep in your bedroom and play anytime. 

© creativecommonsstockphotos ID 87589627 | Dreamstime Stock PhotosMost importantly, we must put our mobile phones away. 

We can’t focus when we are hearing the bells of incoming messages and seeing the flash of our latest instagram LIKES. A good strategy is to put the phone in another room with the sound off. If you know that you only have a certain amount of time to practice, set the timer to ring in 20 or 30 minutes and forget about it, just as you might do while meditating. 

Using natural light or a piano lamp with a full spectrum or soft light bulb instead of harsh
LED light also creates a more inviting learning 
environment. A vase of flowers or herbs (mint is easy to grow and makes a refreshingly fragrant bouquet), and candles (beeswax aren’t smoky) make your playing space feel special. I love playing the piano at night by candle-light. Music-themed or other pleasing artwork on the walls can also be inspiring.

One important element in creating the feeling of a sanctuary or sacred space is to clear our piano area of clutter; when I moved music books and sheet music to a file box next to the piano instead on top of it, the piano area looked much more appealing. Clearing clutter from our pianos, helps to de-clutter our minds.

Before you start playing, you might consider keeping a pitcher of fragrant cucumber water near (not on!) the piano to stay hydrated in between pieces. And if you might get hungry, put a small bowl of raw almonds, walnuts or pecans close by so that you can have a quick snack without needing to wash your hands. 

Likewise, we piano teachers need to take stock of our studio space, with the goal of providing a clutter-free, quiet, and calming environment, conducive to the joyful expression and creation of music.

Students walk in with all of their worries and pressures, and I hope that at least for the duration of our lesson, they are able to put their concerns aside, and connect to their music. New studies are showing that listening to “happy” music, in particular “promotes more divergent thinking.” I hope that when students leave their lesson, their mind feels a little freer. And through the brain enhancing magic of music, maybe even a few new creative solutions to their problems might pop up on their ride home. 

Take a look at your piano and see if it feels welcoming. Think about what you might do to create a Mise en place practice space. Please leave a comment sharing your ideas and observations!

With love and music, Gaili

Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method For Adults 50+ to SPARK the Mind, Heart and Soul


Valentine’s Day FREE Sheet Music: Red Is The Rose (intermediate)

Dear Piano Lovers:

As Valentine’s Day is approaching I wanted to find a beautiful love song, and I when I came upon Red Is The Rose, I knew my search was over. Red Is The Rose has the most beautiful melody, which is almost the same as the melody to the Scottish tune, Loch Lomond, but the rhythm is a bit changed and the lyrics are very different. Red Is The Rose is Irish, which means that you can play it not only for Valentine’s Day, but also throughout March for St. Patrick’s Day! There is some question as to whether the tune began in Ireland or Scotland, but it doesn’t really matter– both songs are gorgeous. 

What is it about the Celts that makes them such amazing artists? The music, the poetry, the literature… so much beauty and history! In my travels around Ireland and Scotland I’ve noticed that nearly every child either plays a musical instrument, sings, or does traditional dance. Adult and children’s competitions abound for all three. You can find live music in every pub, and everyone knows and loves the traditional songs. The Scots and Irish hugely influenced music in Northern America since so many immigrated in the 19th century. Here in Southern California we have a Scottish Festival at the RMS Queen Mary this month, and an Irish Fair in June, plus a St. Patrick’s Day parade in downtown Los Angeles. Seems like we’re all a bit Celtic at heart. 

I have arranged Red Is The Rose for intermediate piano. (If it feels too difficult now, print it out for another time–it will only be available for a year!) It has an intro and an outro and can be played as a solo piece, or to accompany a vocalist. The chord symbols are also included for guitar, bass, etc. You can print the music below, and also watch the video to see the fingering I am using. In the Youtube videos I linked above for Red Is The Rose and Loch Lomond, you will notice that the artists took liberties with the rhythms and notes. You can also feel free to take liberties with this arrangement– express yourself through the music (dynamics, tempo, rhythm) however you feel it. 

Go to our website to PRINT Red Is The Rose HERE (3 pages)

You might also want to scroll down on the FREE Sheet Music page to print You Made Me Love You from last Valentine’s Day, and other songs and pieces from the last year. 

I hope you will enjoy playing Red Is The Rose, and I hope you will sing it as well. The Irish don’t care if they are singing perfectly in time or in tune. Everyone enjoys singing! Try it- -singing is incredibly therapeutic!

Soon I will begin blogging about practicing tips again– it’s been a busy year with taking classes, teaching teachers, writing books, traveling and teaching my beloved piano students. But I do want to get back to some of the nuts and bolts of playing the piano. Leave a comment and let me know if there are any particular piano technique topics you would like me to discuss. 

I hope Valentine’s Day finds you playing and listening to beautiful music.

With much love, Gaili


If you like Red Is The Rose, you might also like the sheet music I posted last September for The Water Is Wide— another gorgeous folk song. 

Gaili Schoen

Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to SPARK the Mind, Heart and Soul


Happy New Year Piano Peeps!


If you’re like me, you love making new year’s resolutions. The year ahead is a clean slate, filled with possibility, and it’s important to me that I feel that I keep growing, keep improving, keep learning.  Musicians form short-term goals to improve our skills; we practice playing a difficult musical passage smoothly, our exercises, memorizing a short piece, or learning the minor 7th chords in all 12 keys, etc. But all makers of art also need to resolve to develop an enduring plan for maintaining the good practices we cultivate while working towards our creative goals.

To maintain a music practice, we might speak in terms of intentions rather than goals. Life coach/author Jennifer Louden writes that the word intention comes from the Latin “intendere” which means “to stretch toward something.” Louden suggests that while a goal drives you toward a future outcome, an intention helps keep you in the present: 

 The goal feels positive, but closed, almost a should, and it doesn’t inspire the imagination nearly as much as the intention, which feels open-ended, expansive, encouraging….

Instead of, or in addition to setting a goal such as, “I will learn this piece in 60 days,” you might want to form an intention, such as, “I am folding piano practice into my life at least four days per week,” or, “I am exploring improvisation in my piano studies this year,” or “I am going to halt negative self-talk by celebrating my accomplishments,” etc.

Write down your intention. Then come up with a structure to support it. You can adjust your expectations and intentions as you go along, but a written intention and structure acts as a roadmap. For example, if your intention is to become a better note-reader, your structure might be to open one of your piano books and play one random line a few times each day at the beginning of your practice session, and to draw random notes on lines, spaces and ledger lines on manuscript paper, then write the letters next to the note heads, four days per week. You might also make some flash cards for the ledger line notes you consistently have trouble reading. Whatever your intention(s), find a structure that you can embrace. Setting unreasonable expectations is counter-productive.

When you have to leave town and won’t be able to practice, set an intention to put practice aside until you return, and name the date that you will resume your practice routine. That way, your travel becomes part of your intention, and not an aberration.

When days or weeks pass in which you didn’t fulfill your intention, let regrets go. Start fresh the following week doing your best to reinstate your structure. This isn’t about perfection, it’s about process. Keep it light and enjoyable. Intentions are about how you want to live your life.  Your intentions are driven by your values. A little guilt is ok if it keeps you aligned with an intention, but don’t let yourself slide into shame and self-recrimination.

Be brave enough to live creatively…. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You…get there…by hard work, risking and by not quite knowing what you are doing. What you will discover will be wonderful: Yourself.      –Alan Alda

I hope you are enjoying new found resolve in 2018. I took a long, wonderful trip in December/January, and though I was missing playing my piano and working with my dear students, I was still learning as I listened to a lot of music with wonderful exotic flavors. I also journaled during the trip. You might consider keeping a music diary or journal, recording your thoughts and feelings about playing the piano, or writing about your successes and challenges, and especially writing about a practice technique that is working for you (i.e. playing before bed, or leaving a difficult piece and coming back to it after a walk, etc.)

If you missed my last blog post and would like to see/hear what I saw/heard in Morocco and Tunisia, click here. I hope you are enjoying a beautiful winter’s day wherever you are. 

I love your comments; please share any piano practice intentions you are forming for  2018 so we can support you!

With love and music, Gaili

Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for ADULTS 50+ to SPARK the Mind, Heart and Soul

January FREE Sheet Music: Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5

Dear Piano Peeps:

I have just returned from a spectacular trip to Northern Africa, specifically Tunisia and Morocco, where I was fortunate enough to see and hear some amazing music. I’d like to share some of my experiences with you, however if you’re just here to collect the free sheet music please scroll down and click on the red link towards the bottom of the page; you won’t hurt my feelings I promise!

US Embassy Tunis 12.21.17

My husband Michael Monagan and I were scheduled

Gaili speaking with attendees about writing music for film

to speak about the American musician’s life, at the US Embassy in Tunis. Though it began as a lecture and music demonstration, it soon turned into a spirited group discussion about the importance of music in both our cultures. I loved getting to know the attending Tunisians and seeing once again that people all over the world share most of the same values, interests and concerns; the mother who wanted to know how to enhance her children’s lives with music instruction, the teen who wanted to figure out a way to make music his career, the adults who love music and wanted to understand more about American music, and to teach us something about their own.

Tunisian attendees at the US Embassy

 Traditional Tunisian music, called Malouf, is an amalgamation of Andalusian, Berber, Arabic, Algerian, Moroccan and its own local flavors. Our Tunisian friends love both their traditional music as well as Tunisian contemporary rap and pop. Some expressed that they listen to American jazz! Later, while walking in the Medina (old walled city), we were treated to a spontaneous jam session of Tunisian musicians:

CLICK on photo to watch Tunisian musicians











Michael and I also found Morocco to be alive with music in many restaurants in the coastal town of Essaouira:

CLICK to watch Moroccan dancer and musicians











and all over the central  Jemaa el-Fnaa square in Marrakech:

CLICK Photo to watch music







CLICK to watch music







CLICK to watch drumming








CLICK to watch music








Click to enlarge

Ennejma Ezzahra, Centre of Arab and Mediterranean Music, Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia








We were surprised to see that there was a mixture of Moroccan instruments such as the Gimbri and the Doumbek, as well as western instruments such as the Banjo and Violin. Our trip revealed that Northern Africa is rich and vibrant with music and dance. Coming home we wish that we could see as much live music and dance in the restaurants and town squares of the United States, but somehow we Americans seem less appreciative of live music, limiting performances mostly to formal concerts and private jams. It’s really too bad, because our many fine American musicians need places to play and people to support their art!

Speaking of cross-cultural musical influences, German composer Johannes Brahms was exposed to Hungarian and Gypsy music in his teens and loved it so much that he eventually wrote his Hungarian Dances, which were his most successful pieces. To celebrate cultural exchanges I am giving away free sheet music for a simplified (but not easy!) arrangement of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5:


Upper Hands Piano, BOOK 4

This arrangement is from Upper Hands Piano, BOOK 4, the final book in our Upper Hands Piano Series. You can view and purchase Upper Hands Piano books on my website or on









I hope you are already enjoying a happy, healthy and music-filled 2018! Here are some ideas on how to bring more live music into your life:

  • Hire live musicians instead of a DJ at your next event- live music makes events so much more exciting and unique
  • Patronize restaurants and night clubs that feature live music, and be sure to tip the musicians! They are often unpaid 🙁
  • Suggest featuring live music to the proprietor of your favorite restaurant or night club (starting with a night or two)
  • Memorize a few songs so that you can play at parties where there is a piano or keyboard
  • Seek out venues where you can dance to live traditional music such as contradances, square dances, international dance classes or English country dances. (I used to play in a contradance band and it was such great exercise for the dancers!)

With love and music, Gaili Schoen

Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul



December FREE Sheet Music: O Christmas Tree (with jazz chords)

Dear Piano Peeps:

There is nothing better than music to bring family and friends together during the holidays. My piano teacher Mildred Portney Chase used to tell me to “play the piano with love.” When we are able to bring love into our music, we express that love to those who are listening. I want to encourage you to play for your loved ones during the holidays (even though you may not be able to play perfectly!) It really is a wonderful gift to hear someone play the piano for you.

Today I am pleased to offer you the sheet music for O Christmas Tree, which I have arranged for piano, using some colorful jazz chords. While I usually post easy piano arrangements, this arrangement of O Christmas Tree might be considered “late intermediate”. 

You can also find a video below to help you hear and trust the dissonances. It is played rubato, so the pauses and tempo changes are just one person’s expression–make it your own! Do you like the jazzy voicings, or do you prefer the traditional chords? Let me know what you think and what kind of sheet music you would like to see me offer in 2018. Keep in mind that everything I give away here must be in the public domain (written before 1923). 


If you scroll all the way down on the FREE SHEET MUSIC page, you can also print the duet, I Love To Stay At Home by Irving Berlin which I posted in December 2016, and an easy arrangement of Winter from The Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi (I Love To Stay At Home will only be available til the end of December, so print today if you want it!)

You can watch a video performance of O Christmas Tree here:

If you are new to this blog, welcome! I post free sheet music every month, so I do hope you will subscribe. I have also written a series of piano instruction books called Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to SPARK the Mind Heart and Soul. You can learn more about the books here.

I also arrange music for Sheet Music Plus. You can find titles such as Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, White Christmas, Sevivon and Oh Chanukah here

I hope you have a warm and cozy holiday season, filled with friends and family, music and magic. Soon we will be ringing in a new year, with new musical goals and intentions. Think about what your you would like your piano practice  to look like in 2018! Let’s discuss it next month!

With love and music, Gaili

Author, UpperHandsPiano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul


November FREE Sheet Music: Over The River And Through The Woods

Dear Piano Peeps:

This month I wanted to give you the music for two of my favorite Thanksgiving songs. Over The River And Through The Woods is a fun song for kids and adults to play and sing together. Here in Los Angeles we have neither snow nor woods, but we carry the fantasy of snowy woods, and this song helps evoke that cozy feeling. I hope you will also scroll down on my FREE SHEET MUSIC page to print, We Gather Together, a beautiful 16th Century hymn that celebrates fellowship, and gratitude.  A couple years ago my daughter and I wrote a verse of lyrics to reflect our appreciation for food and family. She is a restauranteur in New York, so we had so much fun collaborating over FaceTime and email. I include both the traditional and our verse in the sheet music. I want to encourage adult piano students to play both We Gather Together and Over The River at your Thanksgiving gathering! Your family will love it, even though you won’t play it perfectly 🙂


Autumn holidays are my favorite. Last night we had hundreds of kids trick-or-treating in our neighborhood. Of course we could all buy our kids a bag of candy and call it a day. But Halloween is about community, and we loved seeing and chatting with the creatively-costumed kids at our door. Most kids said their thank yous, and the parents stopped to chat, or wish us a Happy Halloween if we didn’t know them. I was so touched that with all of the fear in the world of terrorism, poisoning and other nefarious acts of violence (much scarier than ghosts and goblins!), families still enjoy walking door to door to connect with neighbors.

Over The River And Through The Woods and We Gather Together are from my Upper Hands Piano SONGS OF THE SEASONS: AUTUMN book which you can purchase along with the WINTER, SPRING and SUMMER, and the Adult 50+ Upper Hands Piano books on 

In Songs of the Seasons: Autumn, we look at the idea of gratitude, and how we can be more mindful of the many blessings in our lives:


Autumn is naturally a time for acknowledging all of the people and things we

are grateful for. Keep a gratitude journal in November and write 5 things you

appreciated about each day. Tell your significant other, friends and family

what you appreciate about them. Once you start looking, you’ll find so much

in your life to be grateful for. Express your gratitude in the music you play.





I also wanted to mention that I have lots of holiday music arrangements on Sheet Music Plus, including songs such as Autumn Leaves, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, White Christmas, and various other Chanukah and Christmas Songs, if you like to play just a song or two. 

I hope your music helps to bring peace, love, hope and gratitude to your Thanksgiving table, wherever or however you celebrate. I am enormously grateful for my students and my musical work. What a gift to be able to live through music! With love and music, Gaili