Archive for March, 2012


Do you have memories that are linked to music?

Thursday, March 29th, 2012
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Do you have memories that are linked to music?

Maybe it’s the piece that was played at your wedding. In our case, I didn’t walk down the aisle to “Here Comes the Bride”, but instead, to Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”, specifically, “The Great Gate of Kiev”. This piano piece from 1874 seemed appropriate for a grand entrance, speaking of the wooden city gates about to be replaced with stone ones, but alas, which never happened. They were to commemorate the Tsar having escaped an assassination attempt and referred to hope for the future, an auspicious way to begin a marriage, we thought.

Maybe we should have stuck with Pachelbel’s “Canon” or “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and called it a day. But over the top spoke the language of our life, the composer adding his score to our special day.

It was not till many years later that we got around to adding children to our family, and found ourselves in a historic flat in Moscow, preparing to adopt our second son. Found near the luxury Smolensky Passage shopping center, this building was constructed especially for the ballet dancers and singers from the Bolshoi Theatre back in the early days. The thick parquet wood flooring would allow for any-hours private rehearsals and practice sessions without disturbing the surrounding neighbors.

You can imagine our surprise when, every night beginning between 11:00 and 12:00 midnight, a pianist on the floor above us would begin to play. A Tchaikovsky piano concerto with its octave chords boomed forth powerfully, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev following in close succession. We were in the presence of a master musician and his (or her) dreamily-evocative music transported us to the real Russia behind all of the modern trappings.

Musical memories lend strong feelings to many of life’s events. Perhaps it’s the music you heard while expecting your first child, or when working at your first job, or when dating that special someone. Music is the ornamentation of life, much like the lapel on a suit jacket, the ribbon in a girl’s hair, or the frame around a picture. Music fills in the white spaces and causes our hearts to sing.

Now imagine making music of your own. Maybe it escapes through your windows on a warm spring day, or cheers the hearts of family and friends. Perhaps it lifts the congregation around you in worship, or renders a patriotic moment on a holiday.

Start making music of your own and adding to the memories all around you. Music often expresses what we cannot, and takes us where we never imagined we would be.

———–Copyright 2012 – Alexandra Bartologimignano

(Alexandra jets here and there with her two boys, two girls, one husband, and two dogs, while chronicling their larger-than-life adventures at www.destinationsdreamsanddogs.com.)

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How To Read Music: Two Different Ways

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012
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Wouldn’t it be nice if you could sit down at a piano and play a song you like without having to read the music to do it? Maybe you’ve seen or even know people who are able to play music without the sheet music in front of them. If your goal is to play your favorite songs on the piano and don’t have a lot of interest in the Bach etude that you’re playing, understand this: In order to do one really well, you have to be able to do both. Let’s look at both ways of playing your favorite song.

The Sheet Music

The sheet music is what you are most likely working on in your piano lessons. Maybe pieces by the famed composers of old like Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, or more modern composers like Copeland or Debussy. This style of music, often mislabeled as “classical” music has to be played with exactly the same notes and exactly the same rhythms each time. Although you as the musician are encouraged to play it a little faster or slower, make some minor dynamic changes, and wait as long as you see fit on the fermatas, you can’t change the notes.

Musicians who learn an instrument largely based on practicing this type of music, as well as technical exercises, are considered to be classically trained. There are positives and negatives to this type of training. The biggest positive is the fact that a classically trained musician has an in depth understanding of her instrument and they know how to evaluate the smallest detail to make a performance better. They also learn to read music at the highest level and this skill is a must for any working musician.
One negative that is sometimes seen in classically trained musicians is that they don’t often receive a lot of instruction in improvisation and don’t have the ability to play music without it printed out in front of them. For styles like jazz and pop music, the ability to improvise is a must.

Chord Reading

The other way to learn music is by reading a chord chart or lead sheet. A lead sheet often has three pieces of information: The song lyrics, the melody written out using traditional music notation, and the chord symbols. For a pianist who is trained and has practiced reading chord symbols as well as musical notation, they could combine all three parts to play the song.

Chord symbols work like this: if a certain piece of music has a “C” written above the melody, that means that the entire measure (or until the next chord change) is based on the C major chord, C,E,G. That doesn’t mean that the pianist can’t play other notes but the bottom note in the left hand is most likely going to be a “C”. Within that chord, the pianist can improvise based on the song.

The advantage to this is that a pianist who is trained in this method can play virtually any song once they learn some basic improvisation and also learn their chords. The disadvantage is that other than ready a melody (one note at a time) the pianist probably won’t learn the technical skills to be a great pianist. Where traditional music reading often does a great job of teaching technique, chord reading comes in as the best way to learn music theory, the study of how music is constructed.

Why Not Mix Them?

That’s a great idea but before you get too proud of yourself for being an innovator, Bach and other pianists (actually Harpsichord players) of the Baroque Period thought of that. Using a system of symbols call figured bass, anybody claiming to be a keyboard player had to be able to read these figured bass symbols and improvise within the music based on the information from those symbols. Still today, every college music theory student learns how to use figured bass symbols which work the same way as chord symbols do now.

Ideally, a piano student will have a mix of both types of reading as both are important skills and will be used frequently. If you have only concentrated on one style of reading music, ask your piano teacher to work with you on both. The great thing is that one skill will help the other.

Want to learn to improvise? Click here: Improvise on the piano!

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7 Performers Who Use The Piano In Their Work

Monday, March 26th, 2012
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If you’re currently taking piano lessons and on our particularly frustrating days, you wonder how you’re ever going to use the piano in your music, many before you have asked the same question. The answer is easily found by looking at other artists. Below are seven artists who use or used the piano extensively in their work. If they can do it, so can you!

Billy Joel

Billy Joel may be the poster child for all of the people in the world who want to be musicians but don’t want to take piano lessons. Billy Joel was forced by his mother to take lesson because of that, he took a liking and went on to become a giant in the music world. Songs like “The Piano Man” may be his best known song but many don’t know that he also recorded and composed classical music as well.

Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder may be best known for his songs “Superstition” and “I Just Called to Say I Love You”. He can often be seen playing the piano but what is most spectacular is that he has been blind since shortly after birth. With his 22 Grammy awards and 30 top 10 hits, he’s living proof that music is accessible to everybody regardless of disability.

Sir Elton John

Known by some as the father of piano rock, Sir Elton John showed musical talent at an early age. As early as four years old he would listen to music and figure out how to play it on the piano. He entered the Royal Academy of Music on a full scholarship but like most musicians, he got his start playing in bars and pubs. He was eventually noticed and wrote songs like “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” as well as his tribute to Marylyn Monroe, “Candle in the Wind”

Jerry Lee Lewis

Jerry Lee Lewis may not be widely known to the Generation X and Y generation but he is regarded as one of the pioneers of rock and roll. Elvis Presley once said that if he could play piano like Jerry Lee Lewis, he would quit singing. Lewis started playing piano as a child and mixed some of his favorite musical styles together to form what would later be called Rock and Roll. Although his parents thought his music was terrible, others didn’t. Today, he holds a spot in the rock and roll hall of fame.

Sarah Bareilles

Sarah Bareilles is best known for her hit single “Love Song” and is one of this generation’s top recording artists. She has been compared to such greats as Billy Joel, Alicia Keys, Christina Agulara, and Sarah Mclaughlin for the way she integrates piano in to her music. She will appear as a celebrity judge on the third season of NBC’s The Sing Off.

Little Richard

Little Richard is often credited as the person that took the rock and roll style and put funk and soul style music in to it. He is best known for songs like “Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Tutti Frutti”. Little Richard is almost always seen behind a piano pounding and using glissandos to add flare and personality to his music. Also a member of the rock and roll hall of fame, Little Richard was a mainstay in the fifties but still well known in the 21st century.

Randy Newman

Randy Newman, now primarily a film music writer is best known for songs like “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” and his body of work in six Disney movies including the Toy Story trilogy, Cars, Monsters Inc., and A Bug’s Life. He’s also written many other film scores as well as songs outside of the film genre. It is a rarity to see Newman performing his music without a piano as much of his music is piano centered. He wrote and sang “Short People” and the theme to the TV show “Monk”.

There could be many more musicians included on this list, but these are a few.

Click here: http://www.playpiano.com/pianovideos.htm

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Some free articles about music and piano playing

Friday, March 23rd, 2012
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Here are some free articles about music and piano playing:

Click here: http://www.playpiano.com/music-piano-pages-on-playpiano.com.html

Enjoy!

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Musical Minimalism – What Is It?

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012
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Today is the day we expand your musical vocabulary. Don’t be scared, though. Asking somebody to expand their musical palette is like asking them to try one of those gross gourmet foods like foie gras. (Beauty and succulent taste is in the eye of the beholder, right?)
You may have never heard of minimalism and if you have and later heard the music, you may have listened for a few minutes, fell asleep, and woke up after the piece was over.
Baroque music has its own style and sound just like Romantic or Impressionist music. These were each a style along the historic timeline and like most musical styles throughout history, minimalist music took its cue from the visual art world. Right about the time of World War II, this style of art emerged. History is full of instances where art of a certain period is a response to a style before it. Minimalism came about because the music of the early 20th century become complicated, noisy, and not very pleasing to the ear. (If you ask some of these minimalist composers. You may disagree with their opinion.)
Its roots are less than grand. This style is said to have come about in San Francisco by small groups of composers playing in lofts in the 1960s. It was considered experimental music and at the time, those composers probably didn’t have any idea that this new style would become an artistic mainstay. They felt that music needed to be easy to listen to and comprehend. The old adage that less is more rings true with minimalist music but much of it, especially the recent compositions, are quite grand.
Now that you know some of the history, before you run out and find some minimalist music, keep in mind that early minimalist and later minimalist are different. In fact, the more modern minimalist composers reject the label, “minimalist.”
Possibly one of the most famous composers adopting this style is Phillip Glass. His music may be simple but it is also very clear. The way he intertwines different motives and accompaniments makes for a beautiful kaleidoscope of sounds and colors. One of his more contemporary works, a film score to the movie, “The Hours” is well worth a listener’s time.
Another minimalist, John Adams has numerous well known orchestral pieces which sound very minimalist but to say they are simple would not be accurate. One of his famous pieces, “A Short Ride in a Fast Machine” is an exploration in musical math where a single wood block keeps a consistent pulse throughout the piece while motives weave around it. Even the most accomplished musicians have a tough time figuring out how these motives mathematically fit with this never-changing woodblock. It’s an incredible work that is a must for anybody exploring minimalist music.
If you haven’t listened to Minimalist music or you listened at one time and didn’t care for it, give it another chance. You probably didn’t find the right composer if you didn’t like it the first time around. Although some of it can come across as a bit boring to some, other pieces in this genre are loud, big, and exciting.

For more on music styles click here: http://www.playpiano.com/wordpress/piano-arranging/10-piano-styles-you-can-learn-to-play

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