Archive for September, 2008


To PLAY In a Key, You Really Need To THINK In That Key

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008
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To play in any given key, such as the key of A or the key of Db or any key, you really need to be able to think in that key.

When I was in college I spent one semester in Mexico City while attending Mexico City College and lived with a Mexican family. I had taken 4 year of Spanish in high school, but I certainly wasn’t great at speaking Spanish. But before the semester was up, I began to actually think in Spanish to some extent — certainly not very much, but some. And as a result, I could begin to converse more comfortably when I spoke to the locals.

And I could see that if I had spent a couple years there instead of just 3 months, I would be a lot further down the road in thinking in Spanish.

It’s the same with you when it comes to music.

You can probably think in the key of C — most piano players can, because that’s the key they almost always start in. And that’s fine. But if you had started in the key of Bb or E, you would be just as comfortable as you are in the key of C.

But there are 2 HUGE advantages in music over languages when it comes to thinking:

1. There are hundreds (probably thousands,if you count dialects) of languages. There are only 12 major keys.

2. Those languages have different alphabets in many cases. All keys in music use the same alphabet – A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. That’s it.

3. Language alphabets have many letters — English has 26, Greek has 24, Hebrew I believe has 27, and so on. And of course, the letters are not the same as in English.

So learning to think in all 12 major keys is not that hard compared to learning languages (in fact it is super easy compared to languages!). And since there are 12 months in the year, why not devote one month to learning the key of D, one month learning the key of Eb, and so on throughout the year? At the end of the year you’ll have a pretty good grasp of all 12 keys, and you’ll begin to think in those keys instead of fighting with the sharps and flats as perhaps you used to.

If you would like some help, go over to How To Think In All 12 Keys.

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How To Start Playing Piano Again as an Adult

Monday, September 29th, 2008
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– Many, many adults today learned to play the piano when they were young, but gave it up at some point. Although some of these people don’t miss it, there are others that secretly desire to play piano again.

Some have no interest, but many have a hidden goal to someday start playing the piano again. And when they do start taking up lessons again, they’d prefer it to be with a modern teacher who knows the difference between Bach and the Beatles. Also, it’s difficult to add regular lessons to their schedules which are already full.

How do you do this, then?

There are two linked circumstances present in today’s world that give adults a new chance to learn to play piano in a way that was never possible before. Today, we have the Internet, a continually growing treasure trove of information. Until around year 2000, aspiring pianists usually took lessons from teachers who were of practical distance from their residences. That’s no longer the case. Many piano teachers even give online lessons using the cyber world. There are also DVDs and CDs that have been produced to assist the learner during all stages of piano playing, from the beginner to the advanced. Also, they are simple to find. Searching for such phrases as “piano lessons for adults” or “piano playing for adults” on a site such as Google will bring forth many possibilities for those looking to learn. (Give it a try and find out for yourself)

The other step has always been around, but often hasn’t been described well enough for people to understand. To put it simply, there are three ways to learn how to play the piano, and adults may choose to use one, two, or all three in any combination, and will learn far better than if they used only one method.

The three ways are:
First) Reading music from the score which is printed. The majority of piano lessons require the ability to read sheet music and make your fingers do what your mind tells them to do. The customary way to teach piano was with repeated technical exercises and drills, and reading music pieces starting from the very simplest piece engaging only the thumbs, gradually working one’s way up to complex classical works like the “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven or the challenging “Prelude in C# minor” by Rachmaninoff. You can find an online instructor to teach you how to read musical scores. Some search terms you can try to find these people include “learn to read music” and “classical piano lessons online.”

Second) Playing something by only hearing it first. Not many people could play the piano entirely through auditory perception and these people no longer need piano lessons because they can play any piece of any style they want. Playing by ear can be taught to some extent, but anyone who thinks they can end up playing like Ray Charles is kidding himself or herself. But in reality, most people can acquire the skills of recognizing a tune by ear, and by adding a couple of chords to the melody, can have a lot of fun entertaining their family and friends.

Third) Using chord symbols to play with. “Fake books” are popular with professional pianists, especially those who specialize in jazz. Fake books are song collections in a format known as “lead sheet”, meaning that the melody is written in addition to the chord symbols needed to harmonize with the melody. This method requires merely learning some simple chords found in the songs you intend to learn; and reading the melody in the treble clef, which is considerably easier than learning to read dense clusters of musical notes in both clefs.

Most people have no idea that this kind of playing exists, or if they do, they mistakenly believe it is only for the professionals. Not true. The process is simple and will produce results fairly quickly. You might be amazing your friends in weeks instead of years with these quick results.

Any of these ways will work and are available online. Incorporating aspects of all three methods brings the best results; the combination of reading sheet music, playing by ear, and learning chords and their proper progression can help a person learn the most efficiently.

It doesn’t matter which method you pick, just pick one and start. You’ll find its great fun and boosts your self confidence.

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Musical Consonance and Dissonance

Saturday, September 27th, 2008
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Music
Musical consonance and dissonance are the exact opposite of each other, like day and night. Though both refer to the type of sound achieved by playing a chord or interval, they produce radically different tonal types. Musical consonance is typically thought of as a pleasing or resolved sound; it is achieved by two notes that clearly complement each other and produce a comfortable chord or interval. Musical consonance is at the very heart of composition. Most songs consistently contain some level of musical consonance, whether perfect or imperfect (a classification coined during the common practice period); perfect musical consonance is found in perfect fourths and fifths, octaves or unisons, and imperfect musical consonance is found in major or minor thirds or sixths.

Musical dissonance, on the other hand, is a chord or interval that seems restless or uncomfortable. It can be achieved by playing a chord that doesn’t resolve the song, or two notes that very audibly clash with each other, such as minor seconds or major sevenths (usually notes that lie only a half-step away from each Consonant & dissonant musicother). The concept of musical dissonance isn’t necessarily universal, however; what one era considered to be a musical dissonance is sometimes considered to be a musical consonance in modern times (for example, perfect fourths were at one time seen as dissonant). And in some eras, musical dissonance was even forbidden, all songs had to be resolved; this was an era in which perfect fourths and fifths were some of the only acceptable chords. In modern music composition, however, musical dissonance is not only allowed, it’s often encouraged. Rock musicians use dissonant chords like minor seconds and tritones to great effect and even classical composers employ musical dissonance to create a dark, specific mood.

In a sense, all music can be viewed as a contest between dissonance and consonance. If a piece of music was all consonance, it would be boring. If it were all dissonance, it wouldn’t be listenable at all. So every piece of music is crafted in a unique way to move back and forth between those two extremes to create both interest and pleasure.

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Can You Re-Harmonize a Song Such as “Silent Night?”

Friday, September 26th, 2008
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Watch this short video for some ideas on re-harmonizing any song:

Using chord substitutions to re-harmonize a song is an excellent way to develop your own sound, your own style. For a complete course on arranging Christmas Carols on the Piano, click on this link:

Christmas Carols on the Piano

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The Elegant & Innovative Jazz Piano of Bill Evans

Friday, September 26th, 2008
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Bill Evans Jazz Piano

Bill Evans was born on the 6th of August, 1929 in Plainfield, New Jersey. He started learning to play the piano when he was six years old. In 7 years, he added two more instruments to his repertoire. His first gig was when his brother Harry had to be substituted for Buddy Valentino’s band. He was familiar with the music it was the same kind of music that he was practicing at home. He continued playing boogie-woogie there on in clubs in and around New York City.

He was awarded a scholarship to Southeastern Louisiana University where he played to an audience Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto in a recital in 1950. He left the institute with a degree in piano performance and teaching. While in college, he founded the Delta Omega Chapter of the Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia – a fraternity for people with an interest in music.

After graduation, he served in US Army after which he returned to New York and continued to gig. He set himself up as a sideman for bands playing Third Stream jazz – an innovative mixture of classical music and jazz. While building up his reputation, he was a part of many studio recordings. He worked with George Russell to come up with work like Concerto for Billy the Kid and All About Rosie. He also was on albums by Tony Scott, Oliver Nelson, Art Farmer and Charles Mingus with whom he recorded during this period of time.

His first recording of his own material was with his 1956 album New Jazz Conceptions. He got make his debut with album after being referred by Mundell Lowe to producer Orrin Keepnews. In 58’, he was invited to play with Miles Davis and the Miles Davis Sextet. The short stint that he had with the sextet was iconic as the sound of the sextet thereafter took a new direction.

Miles Davis describes in his that Bill Evans style of playing in his autobiography. “Bill had this quiet fire that I loved on piano. The way he approached it, the sound he got was like crystal notes or sparkling water cascading down from some clear waterfall.”

He left the band after running into trouble with drugs and also in search of new ground to conquer. He recorded Everybody Digs Bill Evans which had a new style that he had been working on at the time. After a short recording stint recording the iconic 1959 album Kind of Blue, he went back solo and formed his own trio with bassist Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian on the drums. The trio stuck to jazz standards and original composition involving a lot of improvisation.

They had four albums between 1959 and 1961 – Portrait In Jazz, Explorations, Sunday At The Village Vanguard and Waltz For Debby. All these four album barring Portrait In jazz were released in 1961. Waltz I jazz was released in 59’. Sunday At The Village Vanguard and Waltz For Debby are regarded as one of the greatest jazz recordings.

Evans experimented with interplay with a little more freedom with his trio. He used slow ballad like tempos for the songs and used quiet volume levels which was the first that it was ever done in jazz piano. His chords had a classical touch to it becoming more and more impressionistic. His left hand playing and right hand playing were so complimentary that you could see a Bud Powell influence.

Pushing the lid further, Evans was the pioneer of avoiding bebop and other jazz forms in favor a new style – modal jazz. His bassist collaborator Scott LaFaro passed away young at 25 which made Evans take some time off to come to terms with his death. Breaking more ground in 1962, he recorded an album that is considered a classic jazz piano and guitar duet album.

He got bassist Chuck Israel to take the place of LaFaro in the trio. The new group continued recording winning a Grammy for their 1963 release Conversations With Myself. It was not all rosy a period for the trio with their music not selling well. Their manager Helen Keane brought the band back on track.

The entry of bassist Eddie Gomes into the band make things look up a bit creatively for the band. The 1968 live recording Bill Evans at the Montreux Jazz Festival is considered the pianist’s best because of the interplay and the energy that the band displayed throughout the show.

Bill Evans passed away on the 15th of September, 1980 due to a bleeding ulcer, cirrhosis and bronchial pneumonia.

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