Have you ever heard someone playing a song on the piano and before you know it, you hear another song and then another-with no break in between? What you heard is called a Medley of Songs. Learning to play song medleys will keep your repertoire in shape and make you a more versatile pianist.
In this article, I'll show you:
What makes a medley of songs
How to choose and organize songs for an effective medley
Tips for transitioning from one song to another in a medley
Why playing medleys can help you become a better pianis
What Is a Medley of Songs?
A Medley is a group of two or more songs (sometimes sections of songs) that move seamlessly from one to the other. The songs are usually related to each other by some unifying factor. With digital music nowadays, there is a popular trend to create song mashups.
What's the Difference Between a Song Medley and a Song Mashup?
Mashups relate to recorded music, while medleys relate to playing the music yourself. That said, song medleys have been around for many years. After all, people have been playing the piano for more than 200 years while recorded music - and certainly, mashups are a more recent phenomenon.
How I Learned to Create Medleys of Songs
When I first began playing professionally at age 15, our quartet had to play music (mostly songs from the Great American Songbook) for adults who loved ballroom dancing. Our job was to play sets of music without stopping so that they could dance for 10-15 minutes to a particular style of music. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to connect the songs for each set into a medley. Despite being embarrassed, I was determined to learn how to create medleys of songs for dance sets hoping I'd have a chance to play another gig for this group of dancers.
Why Having an Versatile Piano Teacher Is So Important
At my next piano lesson, I told my teacher what happened. He promptly showed me the basics of connecting songs together into a medley. This was probably the first time that I realized the importance of what I call Hands-on-Music-Theory which is part of my TAP System (Transformational Approach to Piano). Although only one lesson was enough for me to understand how to create medleys of songs, I have spent more than 40 years of developing and performing many types of medleys as well helping my piano students to create their own.
How To Choose and Organize Songs for an Effective Medley
The goal of a medley is to group songs together with one or more common elements.
Select songs that share a common theme e.g. Holiday Songs, Songs from a specific Broadway show or a similar subject e.g. summer, autumn, etc or musical artist e.g. or any combination of songs from the Great American Songbook.
Here are some examples from a couple of my long-time students. One of my adult piano students loved Broadway Shows. As a result, during his 12 years of lessons with me, he learned to create and play medleys from West Side Story, Godspell, Sound of Music, My Fair Lady and many more as well as a medley of songs from Carole King's Tapestry Album.
Five Ways to Transition From One Song to Another in a Medley
Play the V chord of the key of the song to which you are going
Play a vamp of the tonic chord of the song you are playing to the chord one whole step below and then move to the first chord of the next song
Move from the last chord of the song into the I -vi-ii-V chord progression of the key of the next song.
Ritard (slow down) or accelerate (speed up) to match the tempo of the the next song
Use left hand rolling 10ths to create a flowing mood as you move into the next song (I'll talk about this one in a later video)
Here's a Medley Using Excerpts from Five Jazz Standards
Green Dolphin Street, Secret Love, Softly As in a Morning Sunrise, Georgia on My Mind and Lullaby of Birdland
How Playing Medleys Can Help You Become a Better Pianist
Playing medleys is one of the best ways to keep your repertoire performance-ready. Instead of trying to remember that you want to review 5 different songs from the same show, you simply practice ONE medley.
Learning to transition from a song in one key to the next one in a different key requires the type of thinking that sharpens your music theory skills and knowledge.
When you move from a song in one tempo to another in a different one, you need to make sure each tempo is precise and then be able to transition by slowing down or speeding up. The more you do this, the better your sense of timing will become.
Because playing medleys involve playing two, three, four or more songs in a row, your level of concentration will continue to increase. This improvement alone will make you a better pianist.
Want help learning to memorize your favorite songs? Taking piano lessons with Diana Mascari will certainly accelerate your learning process.
Diana Mascari has taught piano to hundreds of adults and children for more than 40 years. She holds two Masters of Music degrees from New England Conservatory and taught keyboard harmony to music majors while pursuing doctoral studies at Boston University. Her work as music director for a multi-cultural Presbyterian Church has continued for four decades, and her jazz and classical compositions have been performed worldwide. Diana has been performing for more than 50 years. From solo jazz piano (her first love) to commercial groups touring the East Coast to leading her own jazz ensembles at many colleges and jazz clubs throughout New England.