Friday, January 07, 2011

Piano Lessons For Everybody

When I was growing up it seemed as though most the kids my age were taking piano lessons. As I reached my teen-age years I realized that wasn't quite true, but still, a much larger percentage of kids used to take piano lessons than is true today.

I don't know the reason for that, but I suspect it was because we didn't have a million options -- very few families had TV, and of course that was way before the days of the internet and electronic games.

Taking music lessons of some kind was a real benefit to all of us back then, even if we didn't follow through, because it gave us a certain discipline we needed.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Is It Really Possible To Play The Piano By Ear?

Playing by ear is the ability to play a piece of music (or, eventually, learn an instrument) by simply listening to it repeatedly. The majority of self-taught musicians began their education this way; they picked up their instrument and began playing an easy melody from a well-known song, slowly picking out the notes as they went along. And even after these musicians master their instruments or a particular song, playing by ear still plays a large role.

Many pop and rock bands don't play or write their songs based on sheet music, they figure the songs out by playing by ear. It's even common among non-musicians. Ever sit down a piano and mindlessly pick out the tune to "Mary Had a Little Lamb"? What about grabbing a guitar and suddenly finding yourself playing the opening licks to "Smoke on the Water"? That's playing by ear. You're able to play part of the song just because you've heard it so often.

Playing by ear is a valuable technique for many musicians; learning songs based solely on hearing them is a great way to understand song and chord structure. In fact, a great number of rock and pop musicians learned to play their instruments this way. Instead of picking up a book or taking lessons, they concentrated on figuring out the notes and rhythms to a song until it was mastered. Then they moved on to another song. And another. Gradually, they learned their instrument just by playing by ear -- and in the process learned how to effectively structure a song in that particular genre.

Playing by ear is also beneficial in helping a musician develop his or her own style; sure, they'll at first mimic the style of the song they're imitating, but the amalgamation of the music that they're playing by ear will help them create something distinctive, something indicative of them only.

Though classical musicians are generally educated based on tons of music theory and sight reading, some methods rely on playing by ear. The Suzuki method of musical training, for instance, claims that learning music is the same as learning a language; it's acquired by years of hearing it, eventually coupled with formal training. Just like we pick up our language by listening to our parents and subsequently attending school, we can learn music by playing by ear and later taking formal lessons.

So can the average person ever hope to play their piano by ear? Maybe not to the degree that some extremely talented musicians do, but anyone can learn enough about the basics of playing by ear if they learn the following skills:

1.Being able to hear a tune and have a general sense of the contour of the melody -- when the tune moves higher or lower as the song progresses.

2.Learning to chart that melody contour either on paper or in their memory.

3.Learning to match the melody to appropriate chords.

Playing by ear is really a combination of of three factors:

1. Using your tonal memory to recall music you have heard:

2. Using your ears and fingers to help you reproduce what you recall;

3. Using "melody contour" (the "shape" of the tune), "chord structure" (how to form the chords on the keyboard to match the tune), and "chord progressions" (the path chords take as they move through a song).

Obviously, the first 2 steps you can take more or less by yourself -- you can mentally rehearse recalling a particular tune; you can sit at the piano for hours and through trial and error pick out tunes, chords, and rhythms. But the real key to playing by ear is learning how to chart the shape of a tune, learn how to construct chords, and then determine the likelihood of chord progressions -- in other words, which chord comes next.

When you get an understanding of step three, you will be in a MUCH better position to understand and profit from steps one and two!

For a complete course on playing the piano by ear, please click on the link below:

Click here:

'Above all, seek understanding.' That goes for music as well as the rest of life...

Sponsored by Keyboard Workshop, Box 700, Medford, OR

Friday, April 10, 2009

What is a "jazz chord"?

What is a jazz chord anyway?Is it different than other chords? Some people think the jazz chords are unique animals, but in actuality they are the same as any chords. Jazz chords indeed do have their own flavor, but that flavor is usually created through the skillful use of color tones and unique chord progressions. It is not unusual for a chord used in jazz to have 4 to 7 unique color tones added to the basic triad, and the subtlely with which the chords progress give them a one-of-a-kind feeling that is often associated with jazz. You will find that many fusion musicians also use similar chords. In fact if you look back in the works of Shostakovich  & Stravinsky & Milhaud and Debussy and others (and even Bach), you will find prophetic hints of complex chords that are now thought of as "jazz chords." 
But the easy answer is that jazz chords are just chords, however complex.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Learn to scout a song before you play it

It's always a good idea to scout a song before you play the song. In other words, take a look at the key signature and the time signature and see if there's any repeats in the song. In the key signature note which sharps or flats or being used. If there is one flat in the key signature then the song is in the key of F. if there are two flats in the key signature then the songs in the key of B. flat. If there are three flats in the key signature then the song is in the key of E. flat. If there are four flats in the key signature then the song is in the key of a flat. If there are five flats in the key signature, the key is D. flat. If there is six flats in the key signature, the song is in the key of G. flat.
 If there is one sharp in the key signature the song is in the key of G. If they are to sharps in the key signature the songs in the key of D. If there are three sharps in the key signature than the song is in the key of A.If there are four sharps in the key signature the song is in the key of E.  If there are five sharps in the key signature the song is in the key of B. if their sex sharps in the key signature of the song is in the key of F. sharp.
As far as time signatures are concerned, be sure to notice the top number of the time signature. That tells you how many counts are in each measure. The bottom number of the time signature tells you what kind of note gets one count.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Changing Keys

Modulation is a fancy word for key change -- switching from one key to another in a single piece of music. It is a common practice in composition (both classical and rock or pop) and can be used to a variety of effects. Modulation can be subtle and smooth or abrupt and startling. It can cast an eerie glow on a piece of music or completely change the mood and direction. The effect achieved, however subtle or abrupt, is largely dependent on the type of modulation used.

The most common type of modulation is called pivot chord modulation. In this type of modulation, the key changes based on a chord shared by both keys; the destination chord often has the same root note or quality as the original chord. This allows for a smooth, almost foreshadowed modulation. A good example of this is found in the last chorus of rock songs; this type of modulation is used there to an almost triumphant effect.

Another common type of modulation is pivot tone modulation. Similar to pivot chord, pivot tone modulation uses a common pitch to move from key to key. This type of modulation is also subtle, depending on the piece of music in which it is used. It can, however, be used to a startling effect if the two keys have few notes in common. In songs using pivot tone modulation, the common pitch is often sustained or repeated and used a bridge between the two keys.

The most abrupt kind of modulation is direct modulation. The name is exactly what is says it is: a direct modulation using no common note or chord to bridge the two keys. When used correctly, direct modulation is shocking and can easily change the song's mood. This type of modulation switches keys either at a phrase's end (phrase modulation) or at a point in the middle of the song (static modulation).
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