Poseur to Composer

Interesting how the piano notation for So What by Miles Davis differs from person to person. I've been learning the main riff from sheet music uploaded to MuseScore. It's different than this video tutorial from Playground Sessions which is different than the way Willie teaches it.

Then I listened to the original recording again. It starts with those epic introductory piano chords played by Bill Evans. I need to learn that first!

I've been practicing the song for several days but may have to start this from scratch.

In Piano and Song: How to Teach, How to Learn, and How to Form a Judgment of Musical Performances, the author Friedrich Wieck, going under the name Dominie, emphasizes the importance of touching keys correctly.

An incorrect touch, Dominie tells his student:

makes too much unnecessary movement, and tries to produce the tone in the air, instead of drawing it out with the keys.

He continues:

Above all things, I wish you to observe how I try to bring out from the piano the most beautiful possible tone, with a quiet movement of the fingers and a correct position of the hand; without an uneasy jerking of the arm, and with ease, lightness, and sureness.

Although this book was published 144 years ago, and it's written in a hilariously antiquated style, it's timely advice for me at this early stage. When I practice, my fingers on the left hand feel unsure. My right hand contorts to play the chords and I rarely get a clean sound. When I see others play the piano, their fingers look relaxed and gently kiss the keys.

I'm working on relaxing though, and “drawing the tone out of the keys”. Whatever that means.

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When I get home from work I feed my cats and turn on the kettle. I have a pre-practice routine going: I sip a cup of Bengal Spice herbal tea and eat some dark chocolate (90% cocoa). It tastes awful, but the theobromine (a natural compound with a similar effect to caffeine) in the chocolate puts me in a relaxed, aware state of mind.

Then I strap on my arm braces and practice for 30-45 minutes. Today I imagined there was a piano teacher beside me, whispering instructions in my ear (not as creepy as it sounds). It seemed to work. I caught some bad habits and made corrections.

Tonight I also downloaded the sheet music for September by David Sylvian. It's a short, wistful, hauntingly beautiful song I'd love to be able to play someday. September is, in my opinion, an example of a third stream song (a genre of music I discovered only two days ago). Third Stream, Wikipedia tells us, is a synthesis of jazz and classical music.

Another excellent example of third stream music (that's agreeable to my ears, from what I've heard so far) is the album Arbour Zena by pianist-extraordinaire Keith Jarrett. I look forward to kicking back and checking out the full album after church tomorrow.

As for the “math jazz rock” thread found yesterday, I made a quick playlist this morning before work. You can check it out on Spotify. Two bands not mentioned in the thread that belong are Troyka (I added tracks Dropsy and Rarebit to the playlist) and Vixu. The latter is experimental rap-jazz (no rock) but with very interesting time signatures.

Thanks for spending this time with me. Talk to you on Monday.

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Only got a bit of keyboard practice in today. A few minutes in the morning and squeezed a few minutes into my crowded evening. With my tendinitis-riddled arms the way they are, it's for the best anyway. I need to be deliberate with my practice, to think about what I'm trying to accomplish before laying fingers on the keys.

Especially important is to anticipate any tricky parts ahead of time (a protip I gleaned from How to Play the Piano).

Speaking of tricky parts, at work I was chatting with a customer about math rock and how the genre is known for its interesting time signatures (he's a fan of The John Denver Experience). Later I did a search for “jazz math rock” and found this reddit thread. No time to listen to any of the recommendations tonight, but hopefully tomorrow.

One more thing: the Avant-garde Classical playlist on YouTube Music is pretty tricky. Worth checking out.

Update: It's not The John Denver Experience but The Dillinger Escape Plan and not math rock but mathcore. My mistake.

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Of the three songs I've practiced, So What by Miles Davis is most intuitive to my fingers. And it makes sense. I've heard the song a thousand times and know it intimately. It feels second nature to me.

When I practice the classical pieces, it's like I'm handling fine china. This tentative feeling I get is thwarting my progress.

So, this seems to be key to learning, or at least to the way I learn: practice music you know and love. I don't know classical music, and admitted so in an earlier post. I appreciate it's uplifting, heavenward qualities though, and who doesn't want to play piano like Chopin?

Jazz is more in tune to my sensibilities. I should stick with it.

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There's a nicely written post from Ruminations I'd like to share, specifically a passage about learning music:

I'm always trying to learn something new, guitar at the moment, because I find it critical in slowing down time (subjectively); otherwise days, weeks, and months just shoot past. Learning or doing something new anchors periods of time to something particular, something difficult, and keeps your brain squishy. I apply this thinking to music too, so because I don't want to get stuck for the rest of my life with my current taste in music, I'm often listening to new music.

How I relate! Time is going by terrifyingly fast. Weeks blow past me like road signs on the freeway. Meanwhile, my mind's computational speed is decelerating. It's why I'm undergoing this year-long project: to keep the brain squishy. Maybe it'll slow down time too.

Makes me wonder why I didn't learn music theory earlier. Already it's opened up so many new possibilities. Classical music sound fresh to me, more accessible. Today I downloaded the sheet music for the seminal jazz tune So What by Miles Davis and deciphered the notes. A week ago I couldn't do that. Now I can, sort of.

And when I played that familiar first chord, then the second, a big smile broke out on my face.

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Gymnopédie No.1 may be too much for my uncoordinated left hand. I'm still nowhere with it. I stumble on the second bar when my left hand goes from D to A + Db + F#.

If I don't know what I'm talking about, please tell me.

Maybe my fingers are too fat (they feel squeezed between the black keys). Or maybe I just need to practice another thousand times? I wonder if my time is better spent with Bach's Prelude No. 1.

Some related topics of interest I hope to investigate further (when time permits):

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Yesterday evening I heard the heartrending Gymnopédie No.1 by French composer Erik Satie and decided right then and there I would learn to play it. Bach's Prelude No. 1 can wait.

So I'm following this YouTube tutorial by Joe Raciti. His left hand jumps around a lot in this piece but Joe makes it look smoove. I watch how his fingers glide to the upper half of the keys for the B + D + F# chord. This way he doesn't have to stretch his fingers more than he has to. I follow his lead. After about 45 minutes of finger-fumbling it is far from memorized.

My elbows ache, despite two extra strength ibuprofens and the arm braces I'm wearing. Once I get the feel of the proper finger formation and memorize the finger numbers, I should be able to visualize playing the piece and take the stress off my hands and arms.

Joe Raciti has a website where you can learn more songs from him, but no email address to contact him with pre-sale questions. Joe, in the unlikely event you're reading this post, kindly email me and let me know if you provide your subscribers with finger numbers on the music sheets.

This reminds me of a young man in his early 20's I met at my workplace a few weeks ago. He just finished teaching a piano lesson and stopped off to buy a few things before going home. I excitedly told him I just started learning piano using books and YouTube videos. He congratulated me cheerfully, then left without leaving his business card or even his name.

There has been several times since our meeting that, in my impatience, I would have paid him to get past some sticking points. Unfortunately, I don't have a clue who he is and haven't seen him since.

Please, if you're a freelance music instructor, offer your business card to anyone you meet who expresses interest in learning piano and/or music theory. Tell them you are available for hire. Not only does this makes good business sense, as they are a potential customer, it's a gesture of support and the polite thing to do.

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My hands were sore this morning due to piano practice, and even more so after tonight's practice. I'm not worried though. As my hands get stronger the pain and soreness should subside.

I am worried about my arms though. Even after wearing my elbow braces, they ache and burn. My tendinitis is aggravated and I don't want it to get so bad it will be too difficult to focus and too painful to practice. I need to learn how to sight-read and play piano with the least amount of actual playing as possible.

Sounds ridiculous in a way, like wanting something at the store but being unwilling to pay the fair price. However, that's not the case. I want to be healthy enough to practice at all. Managing my symptoms is key.

The first adaptive strategy that comes to mind is mental practice (or inner piano as I call it). Find the right mentalization technique, then blend that in with physical practice. Fundamentals of Piano Practice mentioned mental practice, but I didn't get to that part yet.

It's next on my todo list.

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Tonight I practiced the first two bars of Bach's Prelude No.1 in C major for about 45 minutes. My right hand and right elbow throb. I wonder how my arm will feel tomorrow.

As I play the keys again and again, I begin to feel connected to the song and the songwriter. What is he trying to say in this melancholy melody? This is the man who walked 250 miles just to see some dude play the organ. Yet I know so little about Bach or his music, or about Classical music in general. I barely understand the title of the song. Prelude No.1? Did Bach write other preludes? And my understanding of playing in major or minor chords is fuzzy at best.

I'll find out the answers to all these questions and get back to you.

A prelude, according to Google, is an action or event serving as an introduction to something more important. Prelude No.1 is my introduction to a better understanding of music.

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