- Who is this artist? A who, what, where, when, why question about the performer.
- Who is the composer? Same questions come to mind.
- What instruments are performing?
- What style is the music? Baroque, Hip-hop, Classical, early jazz, Rock, Heavy metal, Grunge, experimental, etc. If you are not sure dig in and do some research.
- If there are lyrics, consider transcribing them by ear and writing them down. This is an illuminating experience if the music is in a style you do not normally listen to. Or never listen to.
- Now let us go deeper into the piece. Can you pick up the form? If it is classical is it in Sonata form, Rondo, etc. If pop is it: intro, verse, verse, chorus, verse chorus, bridge, chorus and out. If jazz is it in 32 bar AABA or blues form?
- If it is modern pop, does it have a four-chord cycling progression?
- If it is classical, what is the time signature?
- Is there improvisation?
- Is there a score available online? If so, you might try your hand at it.
Listening to an unfamiliar piece of music can be pleasurable, baffling or even annoying. Here are some steps to consider making it a deeper experience.
A wise teacher said, “we are who we listen to”. Another slightly more jaded teacher asserted that all students want to play want they hear in their heads. And unfortunately, they already do. Ouch
Building your repertoire of sound possibilities come from repeated listening to the same tracks over an extended period. How much time? Until you find yourself humming along.
PS: as you can see the screen shot above shows a combination of younger and legacy players.
This is just a start for pianists. The bass lines created by professional bassists will be more sophisticated that what I've given you here. But this is a start.
These techniques will create a simple left hand walking bass line in Blues. The principals can be used in Jazz standards.
To discover how these lines were created, do the following.
If I can help you further, please call me.
Etudes isolate a single piano technique. Some etudes explore scale playing in a musical way, others such as the one above, work on arpeggios. The composers all believe that through careful training of basic techniques a stronger more musical student will emerge.
This is like how soccer and hockey coaching works.
A good coach understands that just running around the field or rink is not going to make a winning team.
Have fun, lean in.
If I can help you, call me.
How to sight-read at the piano or “Get Rid of Your Fear of Sight-reading Once and For All”
First, sight-reading is a skill not an inborn talent. Patiently working through the steps, will in short order improve your skills.
A short story, a student of mine years ago came to me barely able to read music even though he was working at the advanced intermediate level on piano. He resisted all my attempts at helping him improve because of his ability to play from ear. Then he goes to high school and takes up the sax. Each day in class he sight read music he didn’t know. They started simple. He was surrounded by his peers. By Christmas he was sight-reading at his level. By June he had surpassed his level. Why?
Classical piano students
If you sight reading is weak, you might start at level 1 Royal Conservatory of Music Books and work through the exercises. If you use a metronome at slow tempi, you will see results in short order.
They ask you a series of guided questions to teach you to see patterns, not individual notes. For instance, in level 1 cover the following concepts.
Jazz piano students
If you just play be ear, I would recommend following the classical piano student routine. If you are a good sight reader of written piano music but struggle with sight reading jazz lead sheets here are some suggestions and concepts.
Sites like www.musicnotes.com allow you play the first page of popular piano piece for free. Find your favourite piece, print out the free page. With the sound of the music in your head, work it out.
If I can help, call me.
This is your chance to practice playing beautifully.
In all cases I recommend using a metronome to develop the ear and ability to play music with others. In all cases listen carefully for good tone and rhythm. Bonus points if you occassionally record yourself on and listen back.
Novice: Five note penta-scales
Intermediate: one and two octave scales played hands separately
Advanced: four octave scales, hands together
See advanced, now explore different dynamics and articulations in each hand. Say, legato in one hand, staccato in the other.
If I can help, call me.
Even though Bach left us with this, in performance there are nuances to consider. Tempo will one modifier of what we see above.
Check out this article from Strad Magazine for further details and explanations.
My best answer?
What we hear comes from our education and cultural experiences. So, more education more cultural experiences=more imagination. And, putting in the time on the piano bench over a lifetime.
Listening is practicing. A bold statement I'll stick to. Try the following immersive listening exercise.
This is just the beginning of learning to listen like a musician. As a musician I ask myself when listening, "what is going on here?"
Learning to improvise at the piano is not difficult, though it might take a small mind shift on your part. Consider the following. Until the mid 19th c. it was customary for classical musicians to improvise on stage. Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart were all know for their improvising prowess. You can find more inf. and links here:
Musicians wrote books on how to improvise. Click on this for more.
Have fun. More to come.
Good sight readers can just play the piano. They don't need to "practice" a new piece. If the piece is too difficult to play "right" the first time, good sight reading skills greatly reduce the time needed to learn a new piece.
Sight reading is an accumulative skill one builds over many years. A student can shorten this time by methodical practice each and everyday. Young students who are poor sight readers enter high school and join a instrumental music class. Through daily sight reading in class they've improved significantly by Christmas. These new skills transfer to the piano.
The internet is full of folks selling sight reading "hacks". Hmm, my generation became good to great sight readers without any of these helpers by just doing it. You can too.
That being said, I use the Royal Conservatory of Music books in my teaching of classical piano. A full well rounded curriculum that doesn't cut corners.
Free resources: www.musicnotes.com. 1st page is free to view, use a tablet, and learn the first part of your favourite pop pieces.
The 7 circles to mastery. The following is taken from the YouTube video below. I am riffing on the ideas.
7. Finally, Practice at the instrument
Hearing: Good old-fashioned ear training. This is often an overlooked component in learning. Traditionally Classical piano students avoided this until a week or two before an exam. Not a great idea. It takes time to develop your ears. Well developed ears are of the greatest benefit because I believe we can only play what we hear.
· Melodic playback for Classical students
· Transcriptions for Jazz Students
· Chord identification
· Chord progressions
· Rhythm clap-back
Imagination: A tough one to teach. I believe a teacher must help the student trust their musical instincts. And, treasure them. Musical instincts are a result of the prior musical experiences of a student among other things.
Expression: Expression marks in a score are not suggestions for the novice. Be sure to work on them from the first reading. Do not make the mistake of thinking you can add them later after you “learn” the piece. Consider this, we all play like we practice. So, under stress (in an exam or performance) you will revert to your initial way of playing. Why? This is the way you learned it, spent the most time on. You perfected the piece in a monochromatic way. Flat and boring.
Technique or what is called the fundamentals: Change your attitude. Think of them as the FUN-damentals. I use them as a form of meditation. A chance to slow down and practice playing beautifully. Beauty is that combination of touch and time we learn through repetition and reflection.
Theory: Oh boy, another area most students practice the fine art of avoidance. The musicians we admire know what they are doing! If you want to have any chance of joining them, you need to understand what is going on. Form, harmony, melodic structure, intervals, historical context, the list of knowledge goes on and on. It all helps. I promise.
Analysis: applied theory and the cornerstone of memorisation.
Practice: Learn to practice, read books on the subject, what YouTube, listen to your teacher. Learning to practice like a pro will save you years of fiddling around. And, it is way more fun because progress is faster.
Please watch the video below. A wealth of knowledge.
An often overlooked and under appreciated activity is listening to our own practicing through audio playback and listening the great artists play our repertoire.
The first activity lets us hear the truth. Champions welcome feedback. I promise it won’t all be bad or embarrassing. Really!
The second activity gets the sound in our head out the hands. It familiarizes us to the musical language being spoken. A cornerstone of learning any new language.
Let’s dig down.
1. Listening to ourselves, as objectively as we can, helps us to appreciate our progress. And, it saves time by exposing in short order what needs attention. No point wasting time on the whole piece when it is obviously measure 22 through 26 that really needs our attention.
2. Listening to the music we are studying serves a number of purposes.
Swing jazz comping patterns verses Bebop comping patterns
Dynamics in early Classical sonatas verses late Romantic sonatas
It gets the sound in our ears though analytic listening. That is to say, what is going on here with:
After years of teaching and practicing I've concluded: we can’t play what we can’t hear.
"Without a sound you have nothing?" Glen Hall
What does this mean? Playing simply with good tone and beautiful phrasing is more important that playing fast, playing loud, or trying to play above your level.
Artistry is possible for beginners who understand this.
Technique is the ability to play what we hear in our head.
Are you learning tunes or concepts? You need a balance of both. Just learning tunes leads one into a cul-de-sac. There is a reason to practice scales, chords, arpeggios, and studies if you are a pianist. There is a reason to practice your rudiments if you are a drummer.
Best advice I got on this topic was, “the people you admire, really know what they are doing”. Check out Jo Jo Mayer, or Elton John, etc. These musicians are highly trained individuals. They are not fakers. Read any drum magazine. Behind the tattoos and hair are skilled tradesmen and women.
Second best advice I got is, “you got to put in time, if you want to leave the land of make believe”.
I'm a professional pianist and music educator in West Toronto Ontario. I'm also a devoted student and teacher of the drums.