Just what are the chances that your students may someday be asked to play or sing for a wedding? Probably pretty good! A couple of years ago one of my 11 year-old boys was asked to play for his cousins’ wedding. I couldn’t imagine how that was going to happen, but it did!!
A couple of my graduating seniors will continue on through the summer months before heading off to college. I am so grateful to put off having to say good bye, but I know my time left with them will go by really fast. The other day, it occurred to me that one last thing I’d like to do for these students is to prepare them for the inevitable…when they will, and the odds are stacked in favor that they will indeed, be asked at some point, to do music for a wedding, reception, or other similar event. If they are prepared, they will stand a greater chance of doing a good job, and could even land other paying opportunities. As we all know from past experience, weddings can be tricky: usually little time to prepare, lots to have to keep track of, visually, and with timing issues. Often carefully planned timing and logistics go totally out the window once the ceremony gets underway!
While most of this article applies more to pianists and intrumentalists, singers have a very challenging job when it comes to weddings. Most of the time, the bride and groom have very specific ideas for the special songs that will be a part of the ceremony. For these cases, they’d better hope for adequate prep time, and some solid musicians to back them up. When the latter is not provided, finding a karaoke track of the song from iTunes can be invaluable! If a karaoke track in not available, sometimes the central track (which most often includes the lead vocal) can be removed from the recording, using audio software such as Adobe Audition, or Audacity (which is a free download). Singers may want to start preparing a repertoire comprised of wedding classics, as well as a variety of current music which could be chosen from in the event that the couple may be open to suggestions.
I was playing around with a simple chord progression, the other day when I noted the resemblance of the progression I was using to that of the famous Canon in D, and was transported back to a wedding I attended years ago. The pianist improvised the whole ceremony. I was , at the time, just learning to improvise myself, and was quite impressed. I thought, “Wow, that’s really the way to go! Freedom from having perfectly timed sections of pieces, which don’t end up matching the part of the ceremony for which it was planned, because stuff happens…especially when it comes weddings! Freedom from clumsy page turns, dependency on reading notes , and the fear of losing one’s place in the music while trying to watch for cues, or a nod from the officiating minister or wedding planner in back of the church.”
Of course, students can always be preparing in the more traditional method of note reading and/or memorization, depending on how much time they have before the inevitable happens! Since I have little time left with these students, and improvisation is one of the focal points in our studio, these seniors will be putting together chord charts to a few basic pieces that could be used in a last minute call to provide music for a wedding. We will probably a start with the two most commonly requested musical spots in a wedding service : a processional piece (Canon in D, Jesu Joy, Air on the G String); and a bridal march (the ever popular Bridal Chorus, Bridal March or Trumpet Voluntary). From there, repertoire can be added as time allows. These days, brides and grooms often choose special recorded music for other parts of the service, or may have a particular special song they request to be played. These are not as easy to plan ahead for. A big help to me for finding sheet music in a hurry for such instances as these is , www.MusicNotes.com. Sheet music for piano, piano/guitar/vocal, or chord chart can often be purchased, downloaded and printed off in a suitable key, in just minutes for a minimal fee.
Here’s one method for learning to improvise the Canon in D (or any piece with a simple, repetitive chord progression),
1 – Write down the chord progression for the student, or have them determine and write down the progression. They can do this by listening to a recording (most easily available on YouTube) and first identifying the notes in the bass (which are usually the chord roots, and occasionally the 3rd of the chord) .
Next ask them to figure out the chord qualities.
For Canon in D, the progression is: D-A-Bmin-F#min-G-D- G-A. Look for patterns to help whenever possible. A simpler way to think about the first six chords of this progression is: Start on D, Down a 4th, Up a 2nd, Down a 4th, Up a 2nd, etc. (applying the two sharps, f# and c# in the key of D). An easier option is to start this pattern on C, and use all white keys (of course, now you have to change the title of the piece!)
2- Have the student play the chords, one at a time, holding each chord for four beats and moving steadily through the progression. Have them repeat the chord progressions over, looping it several times until it becomes comfortable.
3 – Now have the student wander freely within each chord using quarter and/or eighth notes, moving through the chords from one to the next. Loop as in the previous step.
4 – Help the student to identify the key melodic phrases from the original composition, and add these freely above or woven throughout the chord structures. For pianists, it is easiest to first play chord members with the right hand, interspersing melodic elements, all over single bass notes played by the left hand.
5 – Have the student practice transitioning from random places in the music to the dominant (V) and tonic (I) chords, preparing them to be able to bring the music to a graceful cadence and halt on command.
Canon in D is one of the easier improvisations to start with, as it has a consistent harmonic rhythm (there is a chord change every 4 beats.) More complicated progressions will require a little more attention to setting the chords rhythmically to the appropriate harmonic pattern of the given piece.
I ran into a seamstress friend the other day who alters wedding dresses. She had just done dresses for seven weddings that very weekend! Will the music adorn these weddings as beautifully as the bride’s dress does? I hope so!
Thanks for reading! Please share any tricks you’ve come upon doing music for weddings! We’re all ears!