Poseur to Composer

Today was ridiculously busy and I was only able to eke out 5(!) minutes of practice. Still, I read this gem on my travels. It's from The Making of Kind of Blue: Miles Davis and His Masterpiece:

I believe that artist and audience are, in a sense, collaborators. We not only receive what the artist has to give, but we also bring our own interior worlds, our feelings and memories, to the experience. For each member of the audience, then, something new is created.

Marshall McLuhan defined art as “anything you can get away with” but I think the above passage provides a better definition: Art is something you experience and collaborate with.

Certainly So What is art of the highest order.

Meditation Time bookstanding today: 40 minutes Quality of meditation (out of 10): 5

Practice Minutes on the keyboard today (out of 40): 5 minutes Quality of practice (out of 10): 3

For the past few days I’ve entertained the idea of learning a dozen or so instantly recognizable chords and stringing them together into a medley. For example Jump by Van Halen, Beethoven's 5th Symphony, Chim Chim Cher-ee from Mary Poppins, Good Thing by Fine Young Cannibals and so on.

I’d arrange these wonder chords in a way that would flow. Hard work for sure, but doable. Learning So What will continue to be my number one priority – this would be a side project.

However as side-projects go, it may not be the most constructive thing I can do. Ultimately, I want to compose my own music, not play gimmicky tunes.

Learning the skill of Jazz improvisation will take me a lot farther, but it'll take longer and require a better grasp of chords, melodic phrasing and so on.

If time and energy was in abundant supply, I’d practice all three, but it’s not. On some days it’s hard to muster 15 minutes of focused practice time after work before I start fading out and making copious mistakes.

So I'll stay the course and try to add some improvisation into So What, as previously planned.

Speaking of So What, I was listening to it closely this afternoon and notice that my timing is off significantly compared to the song. I’m hitting the right chords, but in the wrong way. I’ll continue refining what I’ve already learned before adding new parts.

If you want the straight goods on how to sight-read musical notation, I just finished Becoming a Great Sight-Reader — or Not! Learn from my Quest for Piano Sight-Reading Nirvana by Al Macy and highly recommend it.

Another book I’m currently enjoying, almost to the point of it being a quasi-spiritual experience, is The Making of Kind of Blue: Miles Davis and His Masterpiece by Eric Nisenson. If you get it, be sure to listen to the songs he mentions while you read. It will heighten the experience.

Meditation Time bookstanding today: 40 minutes Quality of meditation (out of 10): 3

Practice Minutes on the keyboard today (out of 40): 25 minutes Quality of practice (out of 10): 5


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I wonder how much time I spend practicing on the keyboard. Not studying music theory or reading, but with my hands physically on the keyboard. Not more than 15-20 minutes a day, probably.

I've decided to keep track of actual time spend on keyboard, starting today. Like meditation, I'll allocate 40 minutes – and score the quality of the practice time out out 10. I'll make the entries here and in DailyDiary.com, and at the end of the Poseur to Composer project we'll look at the data.

Meditation Time bookstanding today: 20 minutes Quality of meditation (out of 10): 5

Practice Minutes on the keyboard today (out of 40): 20 minutes Quality of practice (out of 10): 5: Exhausted


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Work got the best of me today. I feel chewed up and spit out like a piece of Bubblicious. I wish I had more time, more energy, to read, theorize, strategize how to innovate my personal practice.

Composers like George Russell and John Cage were “big picture” visionaries and strategists (Miles Davis to a lesser degree). Instead of working within existing frameworks they created their own. I admire these conceptual artists most, but also have deep admiration for Bill Evans (his contribution to music should be obvious to everyone reading this blog) and there are others.

I practiced So What several times tonight, gluing together the various parts and smoothing it over. I've already learned the piano-and-bass introduction and the So What chord, now I'm ready to take on more.

The process reminds me of the guy who ate a Cessna 150 airplane, but I digest.

Time bookstanding today: 35 minutes Quality of meditation (out of 10): 5


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Bill Evans in a concert in 1969. Photo by Fauban

On my last post, I mentioned Bill Evans and his expressive improvisations. Particularly on Peace Piece, Evans seems to bare his soul. As psychoanalysis is a deep interest of mine, it made me wonder if musical improvisations reveal a person's psychological state, like the Rorschach ink blot test or Critical Stimulus.

Music may be better for conveying complex mental and emotional states because it's multisensory. Words are reductionist. The more descriptive you get, the less you mean. Use enough words and it means nothing at all.

I'd like to try psychoanalysing my own improvisations, using Peace Piece as a template. In the song, Evans comps with his left hand and improvises with his right. So today I started learning easy chord patterns for my left hand. Then I'll need some guidelines on piano improvisation (it's harder than it looks/sounds). Then maybe I'll start recording my improvisations and post them online.

There's no timeframe for this though. I'm contemplating another musical project too (shiny object syndrome strikes again) and of course I'm committed to learning So What.

Time bookstanding today: 15 minutes Quality of meditation (out of 10): 5


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I've been reading up on comping with the sparse free time I've had today (comping is shorthand for accompaniment). Actually, not so much reading but hoarding articles, how-tos, videos and anything else that might help me grok this. I'll sit down and calmly read them when things slow down.

Tomorrow is the Sabbath, my day off. Boy do I need it.

Time bookstanding today: 0 minutes Quality of meditation (out of 10): 0

Note: Got slammed this morning. Suffice to say I've been recording my meditation times at DailyDiary.com and will analyse the data at the end of this project. I used Daily Diary once before and here are the insights I gained.


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Tuesday afternoon I absentmindedly poured boiling water on my foot. Thursday morning I wrenched my lower back while carrying heavy boxes. Since then I've been in constant pain, or some variation thereof. As a result, focusing on keyboard practice has been difficult, so my last two sessions have been short and not all that productive.

My mishaps remind me of the book Accident Prone, A History of Technology, Psychology and Misfits of the Machine Age. It posits that people who are susceptible to accidents could be manifesting an unconscious intention for self-destruction or some other radical change in their life.

Take for instance the guy who was hit by a truck. Was it because he so desperately wanted to be rich that his unconscious manifested it in the only way he could?

I'm not saying either way, but I do know that unresolved emotional-psychological issues lurk underneath the threshold of consciousness and influence our decision-making in very real ways. I designed Critical Stimulus (based on Carl Jung's Word Association Method) to expose these complexes.

I will probably use Critical Stimulus on myself tomorrow and see what it unearths. You can read about other complexes it has uncovered at CriticalStimulus.com.

On a related note, this morning before work I listened to Bill Evans Trio while reading The Making of Kind of Blue: Miles Davis and His Masterpiece. It provided the perfect soundscape for the book. Bill Evans was an introvert, and he played piano with his head down so low it looked like he was trying to hide from the audience. How he expressed himself was through his improvisations and signature chord structures, and by the sounds of it he lays himself bare.

There's more to say on this, but I'll leave it for later.

Time bookstanding today: 40 minutes Quality of meditation (out of 10): 5


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Diagram of Desargues' theorem, by Jujutacular

Yesterday I decided to integrate arpeggios into So What as a improvisation exercise rather than practice scales. The best arpeggios I know of are John Coltrane's improvisational solos. They are condense, intense and mind-expanding.

A great example is in A Love Supreme, Pt.II – Resolution. It gives me an adrenaline rush every time I hear it. Coltrane's improvisation starts at :52 until 1:14. It's a labyrinth of notes, a sonic theorem. He then hands it off to McCoy Tyner who improvises one of the greatest piano solos of all time. Check out the off-time chords starting at 2:23!

Coltrane's sax solos remind me of Page Hamilton's guitar solos in Helmet. During my nu-metal days Helmet were my favorite band because their guitar chord progressions and solos had a mathy, geometric ferocity to it. Page said many times his main influence was John Coltrane, a claim I initially found perplexing. Now I can totally see the resemblance in songs like You Borrowed, Turned Out, Wilma's Rainbow and many more.

In fact, today I found an interview where Page admits to transcribing John Coltrane solos to guitar !

So my insight today is I love compositions that twist and triangulate around a tonal center, and apparently always have. Jazz has this in abundance, and Helmet borrowed that element to great effect. Now I'm going back to the source.

Time bookstanding today: 40 minutes Quality of meditation (out of 10): 7


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Picking away at more of So What. The intro is memorized now, but it's not smooth. My playing lacks expressiveness. It sounds ridgid, like speaking foreign dialogue without an accent. I need to work on getting different sounds from the same note, but that will be later.

As I study the sheet music, I notice the melody starts from D (minor, a friend told me) and rises to E flat (minor, said the same friend). I assumed the transition was an octave higher but it's merely a half note! Kind of embarrassing to even admit. Training my ear is another thing I need to work on.

Also, practicing scales across octaves is a killjoy for me. This is the second day I haven't bothered with it. In a timely video by Jens Larsen, he recommends minimizing non-musical practice and integrating arpeggios into the piece your working on instead. I love this idea. It's something I can stick to.

I'll probably put scales aside for the time-being and focus on So What, eventually fleshing it out with some improvisation.

Time bookstanding today: 40 minutes Quality of meditation (out of 10): 5


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As I refactor the fingering for So What, I see similarities to coaching a football team.

For example, I see that finger two has been overworked and under-performing as a result. Finger three should be carrying the play, not finger two. Finger four is also slacking.

Yet finger two keeps sneaking in. I tell finger three, more emphatically now, to step it up. It's your show buddy! Hit that A note, and you better be on that D note like white-on-rice!

Finger five needs to play with more confidence too. It hits the A note like a sissy, and not even square on. I'd cut it off the team but that would hurt.

We practice the play several more times. Finger three is trying, the effort is there, but needs more work. This'll take time. It's getting late.

While in bed, I close my eyes and envision every finger executing their part perfectly. I rewind, zoom in, slow down and speed up the mental footage... until I drift off to sleep.

On to my pathetic meditation report for today:

Time bookstanding today: 0 minutes Quality of meditation (out of 10): 0

Note: I checked my email first thing this morning. Big mistake. Lesson learned!


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