Friday, 19 October 2012

We're cooking now!

Here we go. Full steam ahead. This is going to be fun. My exam pieces for grades 1-5 and also the music theory work books 1-5 are ready to go! I know there is a lot of work ahead but prepared to put the time in. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

2000 pageviews! October update

Wow, this blog was meant for me to track my progress and hopefully gather a few people who are doing the same and let them follow along. I went over 2000 page views yesterday! It's very encouraging that even a small amount of people are looking at this little journey of mine.

This week has been slower than usual as work has tken over my life. I've had one or two sessions of scale practice (getting up to 200 bpm with RH D major). Also tackled some broken chord exercises and some chord inversion practice.

I started looking at some jazz voicing for chords too. I realised that learning jazz chord would help with remembering scales as you have 'anchor points' to know where scale degrees are in each key.

Another thing I managed to fit in was some natural, melodic and harmonic minor practice. Not serious memorisation stuff but general ear training and scale familiarity.

I'll hopefull get my abrsm books this week and then it's full steam ahead with learning the 9 grade 1 selections!

Pedal on!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

ABRSM exam pieces Grade 1 book

The 2013 syllabus pieces should be arriving in the post in the next few days. I will be learning all 9 of them solidly before moving on to grade 2.

If anyone wants to learn alongside me, then here's a link to the book. It's not that expensive. There are some nice little tunes in there. I have done two of them so far. Looking froward to the other 7.

Also another must have for me is the AB Guide to music theory. I think I have owned this book about 3 or 4 times and lost it since I was about 14 years old. It's the bible of music theory and is the go to reference on scales, rhythm, key signatures and time signatures. it goes on to discuss advanced scales and harmony further on.

Those are two ones I would start with to get a great solid foundation!

On the importance of variety of listening material

In between my practice sessions, I do listen to a lot of music. I find that its very important to listen to a lot of music if you want to make music yourself. It helps to train the ear and also to let you know whats sonically possible.

My current selection of music this week has mostly been.....

- A performance of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No2

An absolutely amazing virtuoso performance by Adam Gyorgy.

- Miles Davis, Kind of Blue

I had never listened to this before but the lovely 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th chords with soothing sax, and trumpets. Nice music to work to.

- Muse, The 2nd law

new album from the space rock opera gods from Devon, England. This album has loads of arpeggiated chords and lovely vocal harmonies as well as lots of interesting synth and guitar sounds. very well produced.

Maybe once or twice a week I'll post what I've been listening to.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Awaiting New Arrivals

So progress is still steady.

I had some scale practice over the weekend and worked on D major hands together. Started super slow again and managed to get it to a reasonable level. I wondered if when learning just one scale intensely would make it difficult to do other scales as fluently, so I tried E, F, G and A and they all seemed to be okay. It's true that the more you do them, the more natural they become.

Turk's Das Ballet remains pretty solid. I need to go back to mozart and nail down the fingering and spacing. The main problem is spacing my fingers correctly and remembering when not to stretch and space them! It results in me hitting the wrong notes all the time. Must remember to go slow. It's such a strange feeling that when you first start a piece, it feels alien and your fingers have no knowledge of what to do. Once you have done lots of slow practice, it's like you don't have to think about it and it feels second nature. Such a nice feeling.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Lost time

I'm working quite a lot at the moment. I work from 9am to around 9pm most evenings (even saturday). I spend all day thinking about going home and practicing. I listen to music all day and have youtube vids going on in the background while I'm working. Then when I get home, I have to will myself to start playing. Once, I'm going it's fine and its hard to get me off the thing, but just the first hurdle in the evening is the hardest when I'd rather just watch baby monkeys riding a pig on youtube before I fall asleep (you must see that it's amazing).

I think about a life where I wake up and don't have to sit at a desk all day and I can invest time doing the things in life that I want to. Having practice broken up into 30-45 minute blocks throughout the day would be so enjoyable to me. I have a nice little studio room where I can do that and for now, I'm working long hours in the hope that in the future, I can afford to have more free time. Will that time ever come? Am I just always going to be chasing that? Time will tell.

Scale practice D Major Zen Experience

I've been mainly sticking to practicing this scale for a week or two now. For my whole life, whenever I sat at a piano, I would do a C major scale. I didn't know any others. I personally think that the C scale and key is a piano prison. Any advice I would give to beginners is that yes, by all means, have a go at the C major scale, but DON'T stick with it for too long. I would go straight to a key/scale that has at least two sharps in it.  D or A major because they really give you a sense of what practicing in a different key is all about. In fact learning other keys is like learning a whole new instrument.

Anyway, I started the scale at a really low bpm (anything from 60-100 bpm). Abrsm syllabus guidelines are quavers, so when you see the speeds for whatever grade you are going for, you need to do two notes per beat. So when I say 60-100bpm, it means 30-50 bpm with two notes per beats. I just prefer hearing the metronome beat on every pulse so I just double the speed.

Something quite strange happened when I was doing the scale....

Friday, 5 October 2012

Grade 1 Update #4

Couple of things to talk about today.

Last night's practice went well again.

Mozart 'Minuet in G' was still getting better ( more accurate and less mistakes) but not perfect. I have found a weakness. That is a good thing. When you know what you are not good at, it means you have the ability to work at it. It's easy to get frustrated but I'm remaining positive.

I realised that I was good at breaking down parts and practicing them separately. The Bit that I was then failing at was the transition from each separate part into the next. For example, I had practiced the first section and second section quite a lot on their own. Thinking I have it down, I would play it through and there would be a pause and stumble when ending one and starting the other.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Mozart 'Minuet in G' Update #3 Harmonic Analysis

So practice continues on this. last nights practice was an incremental improvement. Still making coordination mistakes with hands together. must resist the urge to go faster. Also trying to remember to keep hands loose. It feels like it is much more fluid and sounds nicer with less anxiety. I think that will be key to improving speed.

So onto the analysis. This is just from things I noticed while playing like chord shapes and cadences.

It starts on a major 3rd to G  so you instantly know what key you are in.  Then there are the two a and b 5 note patterns that are just stepwise sequences in the scale.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Mozart 'Minuet in G' update #2 with video

Here is a video of a bit of last night's practice session. It's not glamourous and don't feel like you have to watch the whole thing.

It just gives an idea of what a typical session is like when working out a piece for me and how I program the way my hands move.

Sorry for the angle, I'm still experimenting with my setup and hopefully i work on it more. Also need to get a microphone working so i can talk about the process.

Mozart 'Minuet in G' update #1

So I just had an hour or so practice. I concentrated only on this piece and didn't do any scales as I know that for scales I need to be a lot more alert. They make me tired if I do them just before I go to bed. I think working on a piece before sleep is probably best as your brain can then process the information it's just learnt during sleep which helps in memorizing the music.

So the session went well. I tried to play the first section again and at first, I was messing up a lot. So I slowed down, even did both hands separately a couple of times before trying again together.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Tenuto iOS app

I have been using an app for helping me remember and learn key signatures, chord inversions and notation. It basically is a flash card utility that tracks your progress. Really handy for those toilet breaks.

Key Signature Memorisation

I have little mental techniques for memorising key signatures. They basically involve seeing them as little pictures which make them more unique and indistinguishable from each other. For instance, the A major looks like an upside down A. The F# major looks light two jets flying downward, so in my head it's F#ghter Planes. The C# one looks like waves on the sea so See Ships/C-Sharp (sound association). Others are more like constellations where the letter is imprinted on the signature. E and B loosely place over the shape of them. The closest i can describe it is like it's some form of Synesthesia.

ABRSM Exam Piece Practice 'Mozart Minuet in G'

I started to learn the first piece in the new 2013-2014 Piano Grade 1 Syllubus, Mozart's Minuet in G.

I thought it was going to be easy. I'd seen kids on youtube play it so hey I'm 29, I'm smarter than them. How wrong I was. I thought that because I'd worked through alfred's book one, that this was a level lower.

Well it didn't help that I'd just worked a 12 hour shift and not slept well the night before. I probably worked on the first half for less than an hour. By the end, I knew which bits I was having trouble with.

There's the link to a free score of it on IMSLP that I've put a link to at the bottom of this post.

iPad sight reading app

I recently downloaded wessar sightread4piano. It contains sight reading sample tests from many music boards around the world. The one I'm interested in is abrsm.

I bought the grade 1 pack which contains 55 exercises to go through. It's actually quite good at forcing you to read as it makes the bar you've tried to play disappear forcing you to play and read on. Grade 1 seems to be the leve I am at because I pretty much get through most of them with a couple of mistakes here and there. I want to be able to get through perfectly.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Sight reading practice material

One thing that I need to do more of is practice sight reading in keys other than C. A lot of method book, keep you in C for a long time and then only give you a couple of songs in G, F and maybe D. Once you learn these songs, it's no longer sight reading and becomes mostly playing from memory. From there the difficulty increases rapidly whilst new keys are being thrown at you.

What is needed to get better at sight reading is just lots of practice fodder material. I'm compiling a list of really easy stuff to learn that is listed by key. I think that I will stick to a certain key for a whole week and get used to playing and reading it before moving on to a new keys. A good resource is this site...

....where you can search by key and level and find pieces that you can play at your level and a bit higher before feeling comfortable about moving on.

Another good resource is IMSLP where you can download whole score and study booklets for free. A good example is Daniel Gottlob Turk's Study book which has dozens of exercises in many keys.

Have a look and you'll have an endless supply of material to learn from if you search well enough.

Yamaha p155 Digital Piano Review

The piano that I use is a Yamaha P155 Digital Piano
There are other options out there and I did try out quite a few option before deciding on this one. The options were a Korg sp170 (with a newer 'S' model out), a Yamaha p95 (also a newer p105 model is out) and a Casio px-130.

Yamaha Keyboards use 3 different kind of weighted key actions.

The first is the GHS (Graded Hammer Standard). The next step up is the GHE (Graded Hammer Effect or sometimes used to be known as 'GH'). This is a slightly better system with weightier keys.

The Yamaha P95B uses the GHS and its not until the YDP-161 and the p155 do they start incorporating the GHE system. I prefer the GHE as it's heavier and has a nice response to it. The GHS felt a little bit light and not as responsive to me although some people prefer that.

The Korg SP170s had a nice heavy feel to it. i did like it but it was a bit too heavy and side by side with the yammy p155, the yamaha one hands down. Yes its more money so you get what you pay for. There is also a Korg SP250 which someone at my workplace likes but wasn't to my liking. I think it was good quality but just a bit light for me.

The Casio was nice as well but the keys wobbled a bit from side to side and didn't come back to rest position as smoothly as the yamaha. They were ok to press though.

Feel free to have a look at the from the links specs below and post in the comments if you want to ask questions.

Scale speed growing exercise

So we all know that scales are ok but once you get to a certain speed then it's like your body hits a wall and it's physically impossible to move that fast.

I learn't this technique when watching a John Petrucci guitar video. The trick is to start off slow. And I mean slooooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwww.

Basically what you are doing is programming you brain. It's tricking yourself into doing it. If you try to sit down, set the metronome at 200 bpm and try an a major scale for the first time, then most people won't be able to do it.

So here's what you do....

Scale memorisation technique

Here is how I learn scales.

I first memorise the pattern on the keyboard. I have my own personal memorisation system.

So the major key is a progression of Root, Tone, Tone, Semi-tone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semi-Tone to bring you back to the octave.

So depending on what key you are in, you need to introduce sharps and flats to keep that same pattern in each key.

How to memorise what sharps and flats you need? Like this.....

I'll show it in the circle of fifths, as most are familiar with it but it's not necessary for learning these patterns. But don't let that stop you from learning it. It's helpful for remembering the order in which they appear. Its a system of lines and 'bumps' for showing where the shaprs and flats appear and also for nice grouping into two TTS TTTS groups.

C no sharps

G has an F sharp

_ _ _ _    _ _ /¯\ _

There you  go. It's broken up into white keys and black keys. The scales can be broken down into these diagrams to remember the shape they make on the keyboard.

      c#           f#
_ _ /¯\ _    _ _ /¯\_

and so on..........

Plan of Attack!

So for the last year and a half I have been going through the alfred Adult piano book 1. I actually progressed pretty fast through it. I did enjoy most of it but after a while I realised that I was just memorizing the pieces and not really sight reading.

I now have changed my plan and will start from a more traditional basic beginning. I will form my progress around the ABRSM grades. Start from grade 1 and learn the scales, arpeggios and exam pieces before moving on. I had wanted to race on before but I have realised through research and personal experience that the human brain needs to be 'programmed in'.  Doing scales slowly. Learn pieces slowly whilst reading the music. The brain will naturally soak it in and it will become second nature. I hope.  

Welcome. A little about me.

Hi there.

Welcome to my first post!

This blog is to track my progress as I learn the piano. I have actually been learning for a year or so now so it's not right from the beginning. But I'll fill you in on my progress. First I'll tell you a little about me......

I'm a British guy, born in London, and I am about to hit 30. I am currently living in Wellington, New Zealand after moving here early 2012. I had previously lived in London all my life and never moved out. I had the opportunity to come and work on Peter Jackson's The Hobbit. I am a Visual FX Artist (FX TD to those in the know). I've always wanted to come to New Zealand and this job came along at the right time.

I tool piano lessons as a child. I was an aimless child forever daydreaming and practice was way too boring for me. I stopped taking lessons having not done any grades. One thing that I did take from them though is how to read treble and bass clef. That is something that I have always retained and has been hard coded in my brain. The two octaves around middle C are quite easy for me to read which has been really helpful as I approached learning as an adult.

My goal with the piano is to one day reach grade 8 and hopefully use my musical abilities as my main source of income. Gigs, performances, composition etc.

I have recently learned lots of little mental techniques which have helped me remember scales, chord, inversions and sight reading. I will post more about them here in this blog.

That's probably enough for now. I'll probably post videos, exercises and pieces for everyone to look at. Also there are some iphone app which have been really helpful. I'll do some reviews of those too.