Play Along – Mahler’s Waltz

In 2019, the London Philharmonic Orchestra performed and recorded Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.5, a huge piece for orchestra, which the composer wrote in 1901-2. You can find out more about Mahler’s Fifth Symphony (and in particular its famous Adagietto) in our Listening Guide.

This ‘Play along’ activity features a waltz tune from the third movement of Mahler’s Symphony No.5. 

A waltz is a dance in three-time. You can feel a 1-2-3 beat running through the music. The three beats of a waltz feel a bit like saying ‘um-pa-pa’ throughout the music, with the ‘um’ sounding strong (on the ‘1’), and the ‘pa-pa’s sounding weaker (on the ‘2-3’). 

In this activity you can hear and see three LPO players perform an adapted version of Mahler’s waltz, and you are invited to join in by playing along. 

This activity works for a group, or can be done with an individual person on one instrument, playing along with the video.

There are two videos in this activity’s YouTube playlist:

  1. OrchLab activity – Mahler waltz introduction
    Workshop leader John Webb talks through the activity, explaining what to do:
  1. OrchLab activity – Mahler waltz play along -The Play Along activity itself:

Setting up the activity 

You’ll need: 

  • Access to the videos to play along with, with sound
  • A group of several participants OR this can be done as an individual activity with one participant
  • Any instruments you have – one per person
  • If you have instruments with notes on, like chime bars or xylophones, choose these notes: Bb, C, D, F, G. If you don’t have them all, just choose what you have from the list
  • If you have iPads with music apps such as ThumbJam and or GarageBand, these can be used too. Set them to the key of Bb major pentatonic, or Bb major, and support participants to choose which instrument they would like to play on the app

Running the activity

  1. Make sure everyone has an instrument ready to play, and the videos are on a screen nearby that everyone can see and hear.
  2. Watch John’s introduction video (first video in playlist) which explains what happens in this activity.
  3. Practice your ‘um-pa-pa’ waltz rhythm. Divide your group into those who play ‘um’ and those who play ‘pa-pa’. The ‘um’ is on the stronger beat, so you may wish to choose stronger-sounding instruments (like drums) for this, but it’s up to your group.
  • Um – These players only play on the ‘1’ of the 1-2-3
  • Pa-pa – These players only play on the ‘2-3’ of the 1-2-3 

Practise this round and round until the group is confident playing the ‘um-pa-pa’ in a steady, even way. You could get a member of the group to start and stop this by giving a signal. 

If you are just doing this activity with one person, they can choose whether to play the ‘um’ or the ‘pa-pa’ in the First and Third sections of this piece. 

  1. Now, watch the activity video (second in playlist) and try and get your group ‘um-pa-pas’ to match with the LPO players. The number counter and instrument pictures on the screen will help you stay in time.

Um – These players only play on the ‘1’ of the 1-2-3 (with Dave on trombone and the drum picture on the right hand side of the screen)

Pa-pa – These players only play on the ‘2-3’ of the 1-2-3 (with Alice on oboe and with the shaker picture in bottom left hand side of the screen)

Stop the video at the end of the First Section (about 1.19). Keep practising the First Section if you need to, to get your group ‘um-pa-pas’ perfectly in sync with the LPO players.

  1. The Second Section of the video is where the music changes, and there is space for individual solos. Listen to Alice on the oboe play her phrase, then get a member of the group to play a solo in the gap, on their instrument. The video shows you where to play.

There are 8 gaps to play in – you can go round the circle taking each solo in turn, or one or two players could do all the solos – whatever works best for your group. If doing this activity with one individual, they can play all the solos!

  1. When this section is over, we have a repeat of the First Section again, so the group plays their ‘um-pa-pas’ along as before.
  2. See if your group can play along with the whole video from start to finish, with no pauses in between sections
  3. You could perform this to others, or even film your group performance and send it to us/ upload to the OrchLab site if you wish!

Explore more

Could you play your waltz piece without the video? Try doing 8 ‘um-pa-pas’, then 8 solos, then a final 8 ‘um-pa-pas’. 

Try playing your ‘um-pa-pas’ along with some other waltzes. Here are a few famous ones to get you started: 

Johann Strauss – ‘Blue Danube’ – This has an introduction section, and the waltz really gets going at about 1min 30secs

Émile Waldteufel – ‘Skaters Waltz’ – This also has an introduction – the waltz gets going at about 58 seconds in – beware it’s quite fast!

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ from The Nutcracker – This is also fast! It may be better for just listening and enjoying

Listen to the whole third movement of Mahler’s Symphony No.5 and see if you can hear where this waltz comes in

Explore the rest of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony – we have written a Listening guide for the famous fourth movement (Adagietto), a beautiful romantic and relaxing piece.