Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Playing Songs On the Black Keys Only

When I was in high school I had a wonderful friend who played the piano, but mostly just using black keys. I was just the opposite -- at that point in my learning experience, I tried to avoid the black keys -- the dreaded sharps and flats!

But he got a great sound out of just the black keys, and in time I found out that he was playing the pentatonic scale -- a 5-note scale used a great deal in Asia and in Africa. Of course you don't have to play the pentatonic scale on black keys -- you could play it on any major scale just by leaving out the 4th and 7th degrees of the scale; for example in the key of C the notes would be C, D, E, G, and A -- leaving out F (the 4th degree of the scale) and B (the 7th scale degree).

Here are a few melodies you can play using a pentatonic scale:

Swing Low
Amazing Grace
I'm Just a Poor Wayfaring Stranger
Deep River
Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen
This TrainAmen (1 white key)
Kum Ba Ya (1 white key)
Were You There?
When the Saints Go Marching In

Friday, October 26, 2007

What can you play on just the black keys?

Yesterday I wrote an article about the pentatonic scale, and mentioned that the 5 black keys on a piano form a pentatonic scale (penta=5). A student of mine sent me a YouTube video which illustrates this perfectly. Here it is:

How to learn to read music without it taking forever

I read this in an article on the web:

"Sight reading is the act of reading and playing a piece of music before having ever seen it: on sight. This technique is a vital one for musicians to learn. Being skilled in sight reading makes reading a piece of music easier; the musician doesn't have to labor over every note and re-teach themselves the common patterns. Sight reading, after a decent amount of practice, becomes like second nature."

Well, nice, but not quite.

Sure -- it's great to be able to do that, but about 99% of working musicians CAN'T do that -- including me, so don't feel bad if you're one of us. (I can sight-read most printed music, but there's plenty of complicated scores that take me lots of time to master.)

For the classical musician it is imperative to be able to sight-read well, but for most pop and gospel and rock musicians, something less is usually quite adequate. Why? Because in pop and folks and gospel and rock and jazz, musicians don't usually play a song as it is written anyway. Instead, they use the sheet music as a "map" to give them the general directions of a song, then by adding their own skills to it create something much more exciting than the usual piece of sheet music.

All a pop musician really needs is a knowledge of chords and some music theory, then an overview of how reading music works. After all, music is made of melody, harmony, and rhythm, so you can get a fairly clear picture of reading music as a whole in just a short time.

You won't be great at reading music, of course, but you'll get the idea, and you can develop your sight-reading skills lots more as you go along. That's what I call "coming in through the back door."

Can you learn to read music in just a few hours?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Would you like to Tango? (on the piano, that is)

Latin-American rhythms are a lot of fun to play on the piano because they keep both hands busy -- sometimes playing different rhythms.

But the rhythm of the tango is not as complex as one would think, but because of the interplay between various instruments, one micht get that impression.

There are two basic types of tangos — the Spanish Tango and the Argentine Tango.

The basic structure of the Spanish Tango is in 4/4 with a quarter notes on the first beat followed by an eighth rest on the first half of the 2nd beat followed by two quarter notes in each measure, whereas the Argentine Tango is in 4/4 with three quarter notes followed by 2 eighth notes per measure.

To complicate things a bit, the Spanish Tango sometimes has a two measure rhythm, with the 2nd measure consisting of eighth, quarter, eighth, quarter, quarter.

All this plus many other rhythms are covered in detail in Rhythm Piano.

Monday, October 22, 2007

How To Harmonize Any Tune With An Appropriate Chord In The Left Hand

I used to wonder how in the world good piano players knew which chords to use in a song -- when there was no music in front of them. They would play song after song effortlessly without ever looking at a piece of sheet music.

I remember a man in Hollywood named Dave who was known as "THE piano teacher". Big names -- recording artists -- took lessons from him. Students and others sitting around the room in his studio on Cahuenga Blvd. (between Sunset Blvd. and Hollywood Blvd.) would call out songs and Dave would play them one after another. If he didn't know the song, he would ask them to sing or hum a few bars. Before long he was playing the song with both hands -- not just the tune, but harmonizing each melody note with a beautiful chord. I loved it, but I had no idea how he did it.

I was so impressed by his ability to do this that I pumped up my courage and asked him if he would give me private lessons. He said he would, but his prices were out of my league at the time (I was in college). But a few months later during the summer I saved up enough to take 6 weeks of lessons.

By the time those 6 weeks were up, I was able to do pretty much the same as Dave -- not quite, but close. And I was thrilled! What I learned that summer -- even though it cost me a great deal -- has been worth a fortune to me -- not only in money, but in terms of satisfaction and just the sheer joy of being able to harmonize any song with a series of appropriate and beautiful chords!

For the full story, please go to "How To Harmonize Any Tune With Beautiful Piano Chords!" at http:www.harmonizeanytune.com

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Transposing a song from one key to another

Transposition is changing the key of a piece of music, or changing the notes without changing their relationship.

This is often done to make the piece of music easier to play or sing. It's a common practice in bands that don't perform their own material; the singer may wish to cover a song with vocals that are far out of his or her range. Transposition can correct that problem by shifting the key into a range that is comfortable for him or her. Transposition is also used with instruments. Some instruments (called transposing instruments) are not tuned to the same note; for instance, a bass clarinet is tuned to a B flat and a high clarinet to an E flat. Transposition of the sheet music for these instruments ensures that they won't sound awkward and flat when playing with the rest of the orchestra or band.

Transposition by scale degree uses the scale degrees of a piece of music to determine the relationship between the notes. Each note in a piece is assigned a scale degree (tonic, submedian, etc.) and the same scale degrees are used for the new chord. This type of transposition is potentially simple, as the relationship between the notes will always remain the same, regardless of the key.

Transposition by harmonic interval uses intervals as a guide for the transposition. By finding the interval between the dominant notes in the two keys, one can deduce the interval between the all the notes. If the difference between the notes is a major third, then transposition of all the notes will be done by a major third. This type of transposition is also potentially simple but calls for an added carefulness when dealing with accidentals that aren't expressed in the key signature.

I personally use a combination of the two, but the real secret to transposition is to be able to think in each key; in other words, to be as fluent in one key as you are in another. Most people start out playing everything in the key of C, since the scale of C has no black keys. I have a friend that did just the opposite -- he played everything in the key of Gb, because that way he could use all the black keys and only a couple of the white keys.

In any case, get familiar with all 12 major keys and all 12 minor keys. That way you won't be in a "foreign country" when you need to play in some key you aren't used to. It's analagous to learning to speak 12 languages to some degree -- at least enough to get by.

And by the way, many people confuse transposing and modulating. Modulating is the process you use to get from key to key -- like a smooth hallway between keys.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Medicine & Jazz Piano

Over the years I have taught scores, if not hundreds, of doctors and medical professionals learn to play the piano better. Many of them play jazz, and often not just for their own amusement, but they form combos and play weekends at resturants and clubs and rest homes and rec centers and you name it.

I don't know what the connection is -- maybe they just need a release from what they do all week long -- but it seems to happen again and again.

I don't often plug other people's courses, but I came across a young med student who is also a terrific jazz pianist, and he has come out with a course on playing jazz piano. His name is James Wrubel. Check it out at "How To Play Jazz Piano".

And even if jazz isn't your favorite style, you can still learn a LOT that will help you as you play songs in your style.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Adult piano courses

We are working on a new shopping cart for our web site which will be much easier to navigate and operate. It's not done yet, but if you want to have a look at it, go over to Adult Piano Courses.
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