Why I chose this song….
I chose to arrange A Thousand Miles. It is the debut song from American singer/songwriter Vanessa Carlton and was released in 2002.
This song is heavily based on the piano ostinato/riff that returns throughout the song. This song is very popular, it is one of those stand out one hit wonders that almost everybody seems to know. The top piano tutorial on YouTube for the song has almost a million views. (HDpiano, 2013) However because of the complex musical material this piece cannot feasibly be taught off on traditional musical notation at first. This is where I feel this song leads itself to the Orff-Schulwerk principles. Indeed the principles of Orff suggest why I haven’t been able to get this song out of my head for the last two months, and why I still enjoy sitting down and playing the piano riff. Carl Orff, in an essay titled ‘Thoughts about Music with Children and Non-Professionals’ explains that repetitive motifs, and the process of discovering and experiencing them is deeply enjoyable in a “from the inside outwards” (2011, p.66) expression of natural musicality.
The high amount of syncopation in this piece means that students really need to understand the groove/feel of the piece first. To do this I have come back to the Orff principle of feeling the rhythms on the body, before transferring them onto an instrument. This is why I decided to design a rhythm activities to be used in the initial introduction and physical internalisation of the rhythmic material. These ideas are included in their full form (and downloadable for your use) at the bottom of this blog post.
How the workshop went…
In the first few weeks of this semester there was the chance to test out a draft version in a workshop environment in class. The feedback I received from this workshop was good, mostly confirming that it was a great song choice. There was even an impromptu rap as people didn’t want to stop playing the song or the riff. I presented my first draft of the introduction, first verse and chorus. I had not completed any percussion parts as drums/percussion is not my comfort zone so I was leaving this till later.
Seeing all my peer’s arrangements/compositions workshopped was very helpful, especially in finding out how to write for instruments I am not familiar with. Many texts and facebook messages following up and asking further questions have since been sent and received.
How I completed the arrangement…
I notated this arrangement off the original song mostly using my own aural skills, listening the song probably close to a hundred times if not more. I had some troubles with the tunes rhythmic groupings so also supplemented my dictations with a few different version of the sheet music I had found. In the end my best approach to the vocal line was to play it directly into Sibelius using the keyboards at the con and tidying it up a little after.
The hardest part of the arrangement for me was the percussion and drum parts. I would expect a drummer to improvise to a certain extent but the drum pattern in this song is a feature. What I ended up doing was notating a simplified version of the drum part as best I could as I heard it. I would encourage the player to listen to the original recording and to add their own touch.
How I have used the musical material in a way that represents the Orff approach in the finished arrangement…
I have changed the key to make this easier to read, especially for transposing instruments, and so that it is transferrable onto Orff instruments for introduction purposes as well as for use when their aren’t as many instruments around. You could potentially perform this entirely on Orff instruments if needed, but I’m not sure that would be as satisfying.
I have arranged the piano part into a simplified ‘easier’ and a truer to the original ‘fuller’ version. I have also done this for the Xylo parts. There is a modified two note bordun part that can be used when introducing the material to fill out the arrangement, but when the students are ready to perform this in full the bass lines (bass guitar, trombone, DB) are preferable.
I have chosen to arrange the first verse, chorus and introduction. The verse could be repeated to perform the second verse. I have replaced the bridge section, which introduces even more new musical material with a section for improvisation. This section is the introduction musical material stripped back to its harmonic foundations. The improvisation can be on C pentatonic (C-D-E-G-A) or on C Major if the students are more familiar/experienced with improvisation. Starting improvisation in the pentatonic is a key idea of the Orff approach. “From the beginning they [the students] should each have a feeling of creative participating in the musical activities.” Keller (as cited in Franzee & Kreuter, 1987, p.19) It is an approach that makes a lot of sense as it allows the students to improvise without worrying that they will hit a wrong note. Participation can fast be discouraged if the student feels it is easy to make a mistake.
Along with the score and activities I have included mp3 recordings (taken off Sibelius) to assist in learning the parts. This way students without strong reading abilities can learn off the recording. I do feel this arrangement would take more than just one lesson to learn, especially if there is a range of abilities in the class. Sending students off to work in sectionals/small groups would be a great use of time and the recordings could greatly assist the independent student learning in that situation.
These can be used in one lesson or over two lessons, starting with the rhythm on the body exercise first. If at any point when learning the arrangement the ‘feel’ comes undone I would return to this on the body activity.
Rhythm on the body/Feeling the groove –
Model the syncopated idea one (seen on main score, flute, bar 1-8) class imitates.
Students stomp on 1 and 3. Teacher models how riff fits over the top.
Split group in half. Half stomp 1 and 3, half clap the riff. Swap the groups over without interrupting the flow. Ask students to listen. Can anyone identify what is happening?
Piano Challenge –
Students are to work independently in a keyboard lab using the YouTube tutorial (posted on class discussion board or emailed to students).
The piano challenge also has another purpose. By doing this activity every student has the chance to feel accomplished by having mastered an impressive piano riff. Even if a few students do not connect with the song as a whole, their piano skills and confidence will hopefully be developed by this activity.
Frazee, J. and K. Kreuter (1987). Discovering Orff. New York, Schott Music Corporation.
Orff, C. (2011). Thoughts about Music with Children and Non-professionals. In B. Haselbach (Ed.) & M. Murray (Trans.), Texts on Theory and Practice of Orff-Schulwerk. Basic texts from the Year 1932-2010. (pp. 66-76). Mainz: Schott.
Rudd, K. (2009, September 29). Update on new G20 arrangements [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8IdJ-0S5rs
HDPiano. (2013, January 6). How to Play “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton HDpiano (Part 1) Piano Tutorial. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZqMX8M3hts
Ludy. A Thousand Miles – Vannes Carlton Arrangement. Retrieved off http://www.words3music.ph/sheets/VanessaCarlton-AThousandMiles.pdf on 02 August 2016.
 I have tested this theory over a few different demographics of people in my life. My own friends, musical and non musical alike, year 7/8 students at my prac school, and my Lithuanian and Brazilian coworkers. Every single person knew it and most could attempt singing a bit of it.