Instrumental

Piano Players

One of the first decisions you will need to make is whether you wish to use a background orchestral track or not. You will hear many pros and cons as to the use of such tracks. My opinion on this topic is this: always look at how the original composition was performed. Was it written to be performed with an orchestra or as a solo piano piece? Just as with a pop vocal or opera presentation, what is your ultimate goal? My answer would be to entertain. Most contestants that compete at the Miss America Pageant are not going to end up as the next American Idol, Metropolitan Opera Star, or win the Van Cliburn Piano Competition. That being said, try to find the most entertaining piece in your specific field, and perform it well. With some piano pieces it is my personal opinion that the use of the background track can enhance the piece, making it much more entertaining and fun to listen to.

The controversy over whether a piano player should or should not use a background track continues. Our opinion is to always look at how the original piece was performed. Was it performed with or without an orchestra? Obviously if the original piece was performed with orchestra, it’s perfectly acceptable to perform the piece with a track. On a side note: Keep in mind that there are various states that are much better at mixing live piano with track as compared to others. When deciding whether to use a background track or not, take this into consideration and know if your state is able to give you a good mix.  The mic level on the piano, NEEDS to be kept above the track. If the track is to loud, either turn the mic up on the piano, or turn the track level down. It’s a pretty easy concept, and yet every year we hear the same complaint. “We couldn’t hear the piano”.  99% of the time this has to do with the SOUND MIX, and not the player. In recent years at Miss America, there have been more piano players do well that have used track, as compared to those that have not. 

When Taryn Foshee, Miss MS 2006 (3rd RU Miss America) was searching for a piano selection she started with a long list of possibilities. She always came back to “El Cumbanchero” because it was just the most entertaining.

When Katherine Putnam, Miss LA 2009 (3rd RU Miss America) was trying to make a choice on what to play at Miss America, (she was finishing her doctorate degree in piano performance and could play any classical piece that she might have chosen) However, she decided to entertain. For her, that was piece was “The Hallelujah Chorus” as performed by Anthony Berger, which showed she had the classical chops, but could also keep you on the edge of your chair with her creative arrangement on that song that everyone knows from Handel’s “Messiah.” 

PREPARATION When Using a Background Track

You will need to allow MANY months of preparation when using a background track. They are hard to assemble. (especially if you have not used one previously). These are the steps I follow when assembling a piano piece that uses a track:

1.  Learn the piece WITHOUT using the track.

2.  Start assembly with the track working section by section. Do not try to assemble the
      piece as a whole.     

3.  You will need a teacher that understands HOW to put the piano part with a track 
       (or make a trip into Kansas City)

 4.  Don’t be afraid to re-write the piano part to accommodate what you are capable
       of performing.

     NOTE: Many of my piano tracks DO NOT have written out scores, but rather a chord chart/outline 
      type of notation. There are not scores to many of the pieces I have built.  We had to listen to the
      original performer and chart out what they were doing as close as possible by ear.

Piano as a Solo Instrument

Piano repertoire is virtually endless when choosing a competition piece. The key is knowing what level is right for you. Once a decision is made on the piece, you must now edit the score into the 1:30 format. Always seek a teacher or professional to help you with this process, keeping in mind that you want to select the sections of the piece that best show off your abilities. Entertainment seems to be the key for those that have done well recently  performing on the grand, at the Miss America Pageant. 

Other Instruments

Background tracks can be built for any instrument (violin, cello, oboe, flute, sax, trumpet, clarinet, etc..) If you are an instrumentalist (and wanting to play with a background track) it is much harder to find existing tracks. Most of the time you will need to build a custom track to what it is you wanting to play. When building an instrumental track everyone (meaning the player, the musicians, and the arranger) must all be on the same page musically or these tracks can turn into a disaster very quickly. www.musicminusone.com is an excellent source for existing instrumental tracks. There are also more and more existing instrumental tracks listed on this site under TRACKS.

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