Saturday, May 7, 2011

Slowly I Turn Step By Step. . .

Learning Piano Piece by Piece
Better yet learning a piano piece phrase by phrase.  This is a work in progress so please do check back.  If you have questions about how to apply this method to music you are working on please use the contact form.

The first thing I am going say about learning piano is "slow down."  I don't just mean the tempo you are playing I mean "slow down" as a world view, at least as far as your piano playing is concerned.  That being said if you are in conservatory you are stuck with the pace your master has chosen for you.  For the rest of us who play for our own enjoyment, friends, family and the occasional gig, slowing down can be an important step towards making music more enjoyable and rewarding.  It is very likely that you are going to live a very long time, so don't rush it.  Play what you love and love what you play.

Listen to the Music
If possible get sheet music that comes with a recording.  Pick music that really speaks to you and give it a good listen.  I am big fan of these:

Amsco Publication Concert Performer Series.  For instance "Trois Gymnopedie" by Erik Satie

Alfred Publishing "Jazz, Rags and Blues" by Martha Meir

Listen and follow along with the sheet music as best you can.  Point to the notes.  Listen to it often (another reason to pick something you really love).  

Finding the Phrases
Take a look at your sheet music,  there should be clusters of quarter notes and eighth notes separated by whole and half notes or rests.  Listen and look, find a phrase.  If you have picked a piece that has lyrics it is of course even easier to find phrases in the melody.  A phrase does not need to be a complete sentence.  "I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy"  can be broken down into two musical phrases:
1. "I see by your outfit"
2. "that you are a cowboy."

Likewise bar "1"  shown below is a very nice phrase all by its lonesome self.  These are screenshots from Noteworthy Composer resized in MS Paint.

Using Music Notation Player Software
Type your phrase into music notation SW.  Watch and listen.
Noteworthy Composer is my favorite because when it plays it highlights the notes being played in red and is in sync with the music.  Other free trial SW I have used tend to lag which makes for a less than rewarding experience.

Visual Art Activities
Print your phrase out "big" on 11"x17" paper and color it with crayons.  You can add finger numbers  (your thumbs are "1" is a good "rule of thumb").  Use MS Paint to add other figures to your phrase that you like.  Color and listen the music.  Now play your phrase a few times.

This picture is an "inventory"  of the left hand chords from "Trois Gymnepodie 1"  In no particular order.   I had been working on memorizing it for a couple of weeks and was able to play it much more confidently after coloring this drawing while eating at a Chinese restaurant.  

Movement Activities
1. Just Go Outside - One of my favorite movement activities isn't really a movement activity per se.  I take a keyboard with me in my car, bike, bus or on foot and play from memory out doors.  I once played the first movement to "Moonlight Sonata" in my car during a lunch break while watching two woodchucks smooching.  That experience is with me always when I play.  

2. The Music is in Your Body - You do not need to spend years training in dance to find a musical connection to your body.  Snapping your fingers on off beats while you walk for instance.  Take an inventory of your notes and draw them into a hop scotch game.  Record your music and dance freely to it.  Walking and humming a right or left hand part phrase by phrase is pretty pleasant also.