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How to play 'Send in the Clowns' on the piano

Always a popular song for both singers and instrumentalists is the ballad written by Stephen Sondheim called 'Send in the Clowns'. The song was originally written by Sondheim in 1973 for the musical 'A Little Night Music'. However, the song was not an instant hit, only becoming so after being recorded two years later by Judy Collins and Frank Sinatra. It is a beautiful although, relatively complex song to learn and this article will attempt to help you to master it.

Background

The song was initially part of the second act in 'A Little Night Music', and was written especially for the character of Desiree. The song essentially reflects on her disappointments in life and so, the song has a general mood of regret. However, there are also elements of a certain suppressed anger within the song and these emotions need to be considered when you are attempting to give your own rendition.

Sheet music

The first thing you will have to do is to obtain the sheet music. Most music stores will be able to help you here, even if they don't have a copy in stock. Alternatively, an online search will uncover some sites such as Myfavouritemusicstore.com that offer a copy of the sheet music for download. Many of these downloads can be obtained for free. Numerous recordings If you want to listen to the song as well, besides the Judy Collins and Frank Sinatra versions, numerous other established artists such as Dame Judi Dench, Grace Jones, Shirley Bassey and Barbara Streisand have all recorded the song at some point. So, take your pick from these.

Structure

The song is basically structured with a four verse and a bridge style. It uses a relatively complex triple metre that varies between a 12/8 beat and a 9/8. This type of triple metre lends the song something of a waltzy feel. Each measure contains four sets of triplets.The song was originally written in the key of Eb major.

Tips

'Send in the Clowns' is not only one of the best known, but also one of the most beautiful of Stephen Sondheim's songs. The song is also moving, delicate and quite gentle. It is a good practice, therefore to focus on not just playing the notes, but rather trying to feel them, listening to your heart as you move through the piece for added inspiration.

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