Monthly Archives: April 2013

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #13 Technique: It’s All About Your Goals and Your Body

Are lightning-fast, speedy fingers in your future or will your fingers be marching to the beat of a different drummer? It all depends on you and what you bring to the piano.

Technique, the process of physically moving your hands and fingers around on the piano keyboard, can be a subject that may be approached, examined, and practiced in a very superficial manner, or it can be an area of discipline which requires lots of in-depth study and devotion. Which path is right for you depends on your goals and how far you want to go with piano.

Short Story
Several years ago, a gentleman came into my office out of the blue and asked if I would teach him to play “Happy Birthday” in one month with the stipulation that I not teach him anything about “reading music or any of that other formal piano lesson stuff”. He stated that he was not interested in becoming a pianist. He only wanted to play the song at his young daughter’s upcoming birthday party.

I said “yes”;
I honored his stipulation by teaching it to him note for note by rote;
Week three he had it down; Week four he was party-bound;
He left happy, I was happy; I never saw him again!
End of Story

There have been great literary writers who were “two-finger typists” or didn’t type and all. Their so-called poor typing technique or complete lack thereof did not prevent their creative output from coming through to the world. (By the way, are you a two-finger or touch typist? Test your typing speed here.)

Similarly, there have been great composers and musicians who could not read music or play piano very well at all like Irving Berlin. His so-called poor piano technique did stop him from finding a way to share the 1,250-song output of his compositional genius with the world. It was his choice to dedicate his time and talent to being a specialist in music composition in the manner which he chose.

Like Irving Berlin, you too might become an excellent composer, a “monster” arranger, an “out of this world” orchestrator or an “expoobident” combination of all of those things.

However, if being a “player” is on your “bucket list”, then technique is a subject matter that you will be required to face as you pursue that goal. To emphasize, I’ll say that no matter how much you may know about music in your head, if you are going to be a “player”, your hands and fingers will need to be trained to obtain some level of proficiency in the discipline of piano technique.

If possible, its a good idea to learn the very basic fundamentals of technique because it provides a traditional foundation. But after a while, I feel it is a good thing for you to explore, experiment and try things that may help you develop your own relationship with the piano. Possible points of departure from traditional technique teaching are determined by your own needs and/or the needs of each student.

I don’t subscribe to or believe in the “one-size-fits-all-or-else-you’re-wrong” view that is sometimes set forth because it doesn’t take in to account the fact that the physical size and even the digital composition of peoples hands around the world vary drastically.

For me, technique is a vast area of concentration that needs more than one post to explore it in any real depth so I’ll be visiting this subject matter frequently in Art’s Corner. In working to develop your technique, you and all students are going to be presented with many difficulties and obstacles. If you really have the desire to play this instrument and keep it in your life, then even physical, mental, and emotional challenges don’t stand a chance of getting in your way or preventing you from succeeding.

Check out these videos of some people who, for their own reasons, have developed their own technique and their own relationship with the instrument they so obviously love.

I saw Will Smith quote Henry Ford on an Oprah Winfrey telecast when he said,
“Those who think they can and those who think they can’t are both right”. I couldn’t agree more! Think it! Believe it! See it! Work at it! Achieve it!

See you next post.

Happy practicing!

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #12 Musical Tonality & The Zodiac: Are They Connected?

12 Notes / 12 Houses / 12 Signs

Three facts are stated in the subtitle of this post. There are indeed twelve notes in the octave, and the Zodiac has twelve houses and twelve signs.  With that stated, it’s easy to understand why people might be curious as to whether or not there is some kind of mystical connection or cosmic correlation. However, over many years, Sir Isaac Newton and others have tried and failed at scientifically linking the chromatic scale to the houses and signs of the Zodiac. So although I find the question interesting, I have no scientifically-based answer to give you.

Nevertheless, you can still have some fun with the concept in an unscientific and light-hearted way, and view your daily horoscope too, just by using the chart below during your daily practice. The on-board rhythm section accompaniments will help you play some of the essential rudiments and other practice items through all 12 keys.

Unichords (Unisons), Major and Minor Dichords, Trichords, Tetrachords, Pentachords, Scales, Triads and Seventh Chords and their inversions, and songs that have short simple melodies like  “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “London Bridge” are some of the things you can practice along with the chart’s virtual rhythm section accompaniments.

Click and hover over the graphic’s hotspots to explore the possibilities. Have fun!

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The musical tones were assigned to the Zodiac signs by coupling the ascending notes of the C chromatic (where C represents #1), with the ascending numerological order of the Zodiac signs (where the 1st house and Aries represent #1).

1st house = Aries = C
2nd house = Taurus = C#/Db
3rd house = Gemini = D
4th house = Cancer = D#/Eb
5th house = Leo = E
6th house = Virgo = F
7th house = Libra = F#/Gb
8th house = Scorpio = G
9th house = Sagittarius = G#/Ab
10th house = Capricorn = A
11th house = Aquarius = A#/Bb
12th house = Pisces = B

The main purpose of this post is to provide some fun and entertainment for those of you who are doing the serious work of practicing and improving your musicianship and for everyone else who comes here simply curious about the title’s question. You are welcome to visit this page as often as you like to use the accompaniment tracks as  part of your music practice and/or view your daily horoscope updates!

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #11 (AC #7 Mystery Man Is Revealed – Contest Is Closed)

The AC #7 mystery man is the late Phineas Newborn, Jr. (Ta Da!)

Phineas Newborn, Jr.

A big thank you to all the contest participants but since no one correctly identified my mystery man, I’m going to post the winning prize link in this post along with a couple of other links that showcase this musical giant. That way, if you’re not familiar with Phineas, you can check him out a little then seek more if you like what you hear and see.

Phineas Newborn, Jr., was a piano genius from Memphis, Tennessee. Although he was very well-known and appreciated among his peers, devoted followers, and loved by his friends, he was an artist who deserved much wider general public recognition.

For me, one of his many career highlights was an album he recorded with strings titled, “While My Lady Sleeps” where he sight-read the whole date in first-takes, and the orchestra gave him a standing ovation after every song!

During his live performances, Phineas would often play a couple of songs at the front of a set or during a set with his left hand only–melody, accompaniment, improv-solo and everything would sound as if he were playing with two hands!!!. Words can’t describe the feeling that his attentive audiences would experience when he’d finally bring out his right hand, during the middle of one his deep single-hand explorations, and add it to the high-fever level of excitement that he would have already generated with his left hand alone! He’d raise his right hand and then down it’d come exploding onto the piano and BANG! The audience would collectively gasp in pleasure! I’d often cry out, “WOW!!” It was an emotional experience that you actually felt and you really had to see and experience it live! He was truly an awesome musician!

He loved to play piano, he loved to laugh, and I’m proud of the friendship I had with him for the short time I knew him. R.I.P. Phineas.

Phineas and Art at Boston's Logan Airport
Phineas (left) and Art at Boston’s Logan Airport                         –photo by Deb Claffey

Contest Winners Link (audio) – Phineas made this recording in 1951 with “Lou Sargent”, which was a pseudonym for Luther Steinberg. Phineas was twenty years old on this recording and at that early age, you can hear his mastery of blues and boogie-woogie piano styles!

If you like boogie-woogie, blues, and jazz piano, I recommend you to listen to as much Phineas Newborn as you can find.

To all the people who didn’t win this time (everybody!), these types of contests and “Silly Games” will occasionally appear in Art’s Corner so spread the word and stay tuned.

Thanks again!