Just a quick post to say I wish nothing but the best for you in 2017 and thereafter.
I’ve been staying fairly busy lately which means I’m finding I have less time to post in this blog. However, if you’re a beginner or an intermediate student, of any age, I can always make time and room for you. I love teaching and coaching and I’d love an opportunity to work with you.
Please visit my website frequently to check out and share the videos that I post in the “Spotlight Feature” section on the site’s front page: artmatthewsonlinepianolessons.com.
In the meantime, keep practicing and making great music.
Learning piano key names is among the very first things I have my beginner students do.
However, many times, during the preliminary stages of working with non-beginner students at varying levels of development, I discovered significant gaps and breaches in such fundamental things as knowing the names of the piano keys and/or the lines and spaces of the grand staff.
The focus of AC #29 will be about learning the grand staff. The focus of this post is exclusively on learning the names of the piano keys! So, if you are an absolute beginner or someone who may need to go back to the very beginning to review, for whatever reason, this post is for you.
Use the four utilities on this page in their numerical order of presentation to help you drill and thoroughly learn the piano key names starting with the white keys first.
White keys and natural keys are synonymous and, as illustrated in AC #10, white keys were the only keys present on the world’s first piano keyboards. That said, you should earnestly study the natural keys first before moving on to the next step of learning the names of the black keys.
Each red-note question may be answered by using your mouse or qwerty keyboard commands in conjunction with the up & down arrow keys when answering questions on sharps and flats, i.e. if C# is the question, press/hold the up arrow key first, then answer it with the qwerty C key. If Db is the question, press/hold the down arrow key first, then answer with the qwerty D key. Mouse-click once anywhere in the applet before using the “qwerty” keys to enter your answers.
Since each exercise utility is never-ending and presents questions indefinitely, you’ll want to set some type of completion benchmark such as answering 100 questions correctly or you might use the clock timer, located at the top of each utility, to set a time limit, such as 5 to 10 minutes. If you use the timer method, be sure to click the Reset Score button when you start each utility. In either case, keep working until you have a success rate that’s between 90% and 100%.
Name The Natural Keys (White Keys) Keyboard Note Identification #1: Your first mission is to learn the names of the white keys.
Name The Black-Key Sharps Keyboard Note Identification #2: Your second mission is to learn the black-key sharp names.
Name The Black-Key Flats Keyboard Note Identification #3: Your third mission is to learn the black-key flat names.
Name All of The Keys Quickly Keyboard Note Identification #4: Your fourth mission is to name them all quickly!
ATTN: All Instrumentalists and Vocalists! This post applies to you!
As you’re listening to some music and you hear a melody, a phrase, a motif, or an arrangement that draws your attention because it “speaks” to you and you really like it, you should “T-it-up”! What do I mean by that? You should transcribe it! You’ll benefit whether you “T” all of it, or only a fractional part of it! Just get in there and “T” something up!
I borrowed the title phrase for this post from the world of golf. I’ve been a fan of Tiger Woods for a long time. Through his actions on the golf course and his interviews, Tiger has always demonstrated that he possess a deep knowledge of golf on many levels. He has frequently spoken about the high regard and respect he has for golf’s “elder statesmen” like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicholas. He’s spoken specifically about the fact that he’s watched many videos of them and studied them.
In the world of music, you’ll find many musicians, including myself, who have the same kind of high-regard and respect for music’s “elder statesmen”. For instance, whenever someone asked The Beatles and Eric Clapton questions like “who most influenced you?”, they’d always name Chuck Berry first as they spoke about their high regard and respect they had for him. Whenever Chuck Berry was asked that same question, as he addressed it in his autobiography, he’d immediately credit his local peers, the great boogie-woogie pianists and the great Nat “King” Cole as he spoke about the high regard and respect he has for them all!
So, I was particularly delighted when one of my students, bass player Nicholas Gendron, originally an ear training student who by the time he signed on with me had already done complete James Jamerson transcriptions on his own by ear, spoke to me about the high regard and respect he has for many of the same great jazz bassists for whom I share the same feelings. When Nick expressed his interest in expanding his ear training studies to include having me work with him on “strengthening-up” his walking bass lines, I immediately suggested that he start right away on transcribing some of the great jazz bassists. I agreed to get right in there with him and do some of my own transcriptions of some of the bass veterans also to share with him in his lessons. So for this post, I decided to give you the complete transcription I did for Nick of what the great Israel Crosby played on “But Not For Me” from one of Ahmad Jamal’s classic albums. You can view the video and download this PDF too!
The information you can get from studying transcriptions is invaluable, and by all means, I strongly suggest that you, and all serious students of improvised music, should do a lot of your own transcription work! Don’t get me wrong. It’s definitely ok to draw information from the transcriptions of other people, however, the benefits of doing your own transcription work will pay bigger dividends because, in doing so, the information you derive gets planted deeper into your musical soul by the nature of the do-it-yourself process.
Whether you do one-chorus, multiple choruses, single phrase, multiple phrases, right-hand only, left-hand only, both hands, partial heads, full heads, partial arrangements, or full arrangements… you’ll be doing something that’s good for your musicianship!
The focus of your transcriptions are determined, of course, by whatever your objective may be at any given time. For instance, you might limit the focus of your transcription to getting the actual musical notes only! Or, you may want to exclude the actual notes and focus on obtaining chord progressions only, as in getting the chord changes of some particular song or tune. Perhaps you want everything… actual notes, chord changes, articulations, and dynamics too! Ear training makes it all available to you.
You can write your transcription work down on manuscript paper using standard music notation, or you might write it down in some other form on unlined or lined notebook paper for that matter! If you have a good memory, you can even skip the writing-it-down process altogether and simply keep it all in your head, as Nick did with his James Jamerson transcriptions. If you can do it, I recommend you do some of both because it’s all good!
At the time of this post, Nick is in Aruba! He’ll be starting his own page within my site soon after he returns so if you’d like to follow Nick on his page, check back in a few weeks and just type or paste his name into any search box on my site.
Remember that although your teacher or coach can point you in the direction of what work you need to do, it is YOU that has to DO the work by practicing!
3: “FIGURE 8” EXERCISES:What are they? How do they apply to piano?
I borrowed the term “Figure-8” from the world of Olympic figure skating. If you aren’t familiar with figure skating, a little background and demonstration on that subject might be helpful.
Please note that I address both questions in the second half of this post.So if you’d like to skip past the “FIGURE 8s” IN OLYMPIC SKATING background/demonstration section that follows next, you can go directly to the “FIGURE 8s” in Piano and Music section by clicking here.
There was a period of time when Olympic ice skating competitors were required to participate in the Compulsory Figures Competition. They had to skate a certain number of compulsory figures into the ice and then re-skate or trace-over the figures. All of the figures were based on or derivatives of the number “eight”, thus the term “Figure 8” skating. At first there were twelve figures but over the years, the number was gradually reduced and by 1973, only three compulsory figures remained. Skaters were scored on how well each figure was initially etched or engraved, and on how well they traced-over each original skating.
Compulsory figures were eliminated entirely from international competition after 1990, so videos and rebroadcasts are perhaps your main avenue of seeing what I hope doesn’t become a lost art form! If you haven’t seen Olympic figure skating in live broadcasts or taped reruns, I’d like to have you take a look at the next several clips from that world because seeing the skaters create and then trace the figures will help me draw a picture of the parallels I see.
When I first watched the introductory commentary clip just below, I smiled when the comparisons of skating fundamentals and the musical scales of a pianist was made because I completely agree with what was said.
The Paragraph Loop figure, with its sub-loop variation within each of its two circles, seemed to be the most challenging of the three remaining figures to skate and trace. This was my favorite event to watch because of the discipline, skill, control, grace, precision, stamina, mental toughness, and strength it took to pull it off. Check out the following really short video clips on “Figure 8” skating before returning your focus to the music world.
“FIGURE 8s” IN OLYMPIC SKATING
Commentary on Compulsory Figures – “They are really basically like the scales for a pianist.”
Clip #1 – The Counter figure is Illustrated
Clip #2 – The Paragraph Bracket figure is Illustrated
Clip #3 – Debi Thomas Skates The Paragraph Bracket
Clip #4 – The Paragraph Loop figure is Illustrated
Clip #5 – Debi Thomas Skates The Paragraph Loop
Setting skating aside, does this illustration of the Counter remind you of anything?
Which of the three answers below do you think would be the most chosen in a David Letterman-like picture association skit or poll? (drum roll please…)
1. A snow man; 2. Three scoops of vanilla ice cream; 3. The notes of a musical triad;
A case could be made for #s 1 and 2 but I think the Letterman answer might be #3, a musical triad! Paul Shaffer might say “Yeah! Let’s run with that one!” as we shift our focus back to music.
“Figure-8s”, as I use the term in piano lessons, are musical figures which, once played, must be repeated or “traced” two or more times and as smoothly as possible in a manner that is figuratively similar to the way tracing was done in the world of figure skating. The length and complexity of the figures may vary but the object is to have your fingers remain in continuous contact with the piano keyboard while you’re executing and tracing so that the figure remains unbroken and true-to-form during the entire exercise.
“Figure 8s” on a major triad
In the videos just below you’ll see me “figure 8” the notes of a C major triad which make my “target notes” C, E, and G. To “figure 8” the notes, I use a 2-note ornament that starts with a scale step above the target note, passes through the target note to a half-step below the target note then returns to the target note so that the figure-8 ornamenting of each target note will consist of 4 tones being played. In short, I “hang” a two-note ornament on each of the three target notes. The video starts with me “figure 8-ing” Middle C by practicing the 2-note ornament around that single note before I move on to practice the same ornament on the other two notes. (See the major triad videos)
“Figure 8s” on a minor triad
In the videos just below you’ll see me “figure 8” the notes of a C minor triad which make my “target notes” C, Eb, and G. To “figure-8” the notes, I use a 3-note ornament that starts with a half-step below the target note then moves directly to a whole step above the target note then makes a chromatic 2-note slide which ends directly on the target note so that the figure-8 ornamenting of each target note will consist of 4 tones being played. In short, I “hang” a 3-note ornament on each of the three target notes. The video starts with me “figure 8-ing” Middle C by practicing the 3-note ornament around that single note only before I move on to practice the same ornament on the other two notes. (See the minor triad videos)
In the context of piano technique, these “Figure 8” piano finger patterns and exercises require the same characteristics as those I mentioned near the top of this post in the ice skating context. As you work with these exercises, practice slowly and strive for evenness and accuracy. Speed will always come to you as a by-product of slow efficient practice!
I encourage you to come up with your own “Figure 8s” too. Your figures may vary in size from very short ornaments, like the ones I used in this post, to longer phrases, like the one in the interactive picture just below.
With the use of rhythmic and pitch variation, the possibilities are virtually limitless!
Of course all of the exercises discussed and demonstrated in this three-post topic, as well as any you may make or find elsewhere, won’t give you the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound or be faster than a speeding bullet! However, if you are persistent, patient, and do the exercises I recommended in this post in all 12 keys, your fingers will learn to do things and go places they’ve never gone before on the piano keyboard.
I don’t know about you but the first word I heard as a newborn baby was probably the word “NO!” Well, maybe it was “mom” or “dad”, but “NO!” was probably very high on the list of first-heard words.
My first physical experience was probably the doctor-administered “rear-end spank” that was customarily given to newborns. Do they still do that today? That spank hurt and it made me cry, and henceforth, my connection to “blues” music was immediately solidified! (Just kidding!)
Seriously though, I chose “Speak Like a Child” to be a part this post’s title because, for me, the phrase has a special figurative significance.
When a child learns to speak English or any other spoken language, a big part of the process is spending lots of time listening to and imitating the words, phrases, and sentences being spoken by the people around them–family members in most instances. The key words here are listening and imitating.
Likewise, one of the best ways for people to learn the language of jazz is to spend lots of time listening to and imitating and even transcribing the sounds of musical ideas and phrases being played in the music you hear or by the musicians around you. The key words here are also listening and imitating.
All of the world’s best orators started off as kids learning the intricacies of speech by listening and echoing single words, short phrases, longer phrases, and sentences, etc. until eventually, the ability to compose and express their own thoughts finally took hold. The language of jazz has the same dynamic! That is to say, all of the world’s best instrumentalists and improvisers started off as beginners who could barely make a sound on their respective instrument(s). But through the long process of listening, imitating, and learning to read in many cases, the art of self-expression finally developed and they became great players.
So if you’re not already doing it, I want to encourage you to “Speak Like a Child” and add this type of listen-and-imitate approach to your practice routine. Get in there and get started by learning to imitate some short phrases first before moving on to medium length and longer phrases. Melodies and fragments of melodies are good too! I’m going to ask a couple of my students to let me post some of their work along these lines on their student page in the near future. It really is a very effective way to learn the syntax of jazz language and to build a lexicon of phrases and vocabulary. Stay tuned.
While recording “You’re My Everything” during a recording session on October 26, 1956, Miles Davis whistled during the song’s intro to stop the recording and said to Red Garland, his pianist, “Play some block chords Red… Alright Rudy?… Block chords Red”.
This instruction was left in the mix and can be heard on the commercially released recording. What did Miles mean when he said that? What did Miles want from his pianist? The song’s intro starts at the video’s 19th second time code marker and as you’re listening, pay special attention to the difference in Red Garland’s playing before and after Miles’ instruction.
“Block chords” is a harmonic device that calls for all harmony being played, during the spans-of-time that block chords are engaged, to be delivered within certain close-position voicings and rhythmic parameters. When block chords are applied to melody and/or single-note improvisation lines, a more impactful, “phatter”, richer sound results! I’ve seen Phineas Newborn draw actual gasps-of-excitement from audiences with his highly skilled block chord use!
There are several types or variations of block chords but the one on which I’m going to focus in this workshop I’ve named “book ends”. Book ends call for 5-note voicings with a numerical schematic that spells voices 1 through 5 the from top to bottom with the melody or lead always being note 1 or the top-most note. Note 5 always doubles note 1, one octave lower. Notes 2, 3, and 4 are harmony notes which must be placed in between or within the one-octave span of notes 1 and 5 (the “book ends”) at all times.
Since this is a tall order, I highly advise you to do yourself a favor before moving on to blocking melodies and improv lines. Do the prep work of making sure that you can play all Major7, Dominant7, Minor7, Minor7b5 and Diminished7 chords in all four of their positions in the 5-note block chord style! It’ll make what follows much easier!!!
As I always say, don’t hesitate to contact me if you need some assistance. I’ll be glad to hear from you and glad to help. Let’s Skype!
Where did block chords come from? Who invented them?
I recall having read somewhere in the past that pianist/organist Milt Buckner was given credit for starting or inventing block chords!
I’m not going to co-sign such an absolute statement but I will go along with acknowledging the fact that Milt Buckner is one of the first musicians to be widely noticed and recognized for bringing this style of playing to the “forefront”. George Shearing credited Milt Buckner and the big band sounds of Glenn Miller as his two major influencers along the lines of his developing the block chord “George Shearing sound”.
Erroll Garner also credited the sounds of big bands as his main influence in the development of his signature style which uses block chords. There are many other musicians who cite Milt Buckner as a main influencing source along these lines but as to whether or not Milt Buckner actually invented block chords, I choose to remain a non signatory.
John Lennon once said that if you had to rename rock and roll, you’d have to call it “Chuck Berry!” However, in Chuck Berry’s autobiography, Chuck thanked J.L. for the statement but spoke up right away saying that the whole “Chuck Berry” concept and sound was not actually his! It came directly from his being influenced by his local peers, the great boogie-woogie players, and people like the great Nat “King” Cole!
I like to think that if Milt Buckner were around today, he might thank all of his fans and “influencees” before giving the same kind of cautionary statement the C.B. gave J.L.
And so the story goes… Because of the influence factor, it’s usually inaccurate at best to try to trace and pinpoint something like a trend or a style in music down to one person. What is more important to me is finding out how to do it and how to use it in my playing.
With that said, let me draw your attention to the 7/22/13 update release of “Block Chording Short Scales” in my store. It is a rudimentary block chord drill system that focuses on block chording 3-, 4-, and 5-note scales of the major and minor varieties and it has MIDI accompaniments to help your practice move right along. If you do the work, this updated package can be very helpful to you in getting block chords “together”. Contact me if you need assistance.
Click the links on the magazine cover to view the title story and other contents inside.
Well if you are expecting your dog to play some jazz, blues, classical or pop music after a few sessions with a teacher, I’ll say that it will take more than a few lessons in most cases! (Smile!) However, if your dog seems to enjoy just doodling around on the keys, I’d say encourage it! I’ve known that many animals actually like music and will listen and respond to it in their own way.
I used to have a cat named Tom-Two who loved to sit on the piano and listen to music while I practiced alone or rehearsed with a group that had drums, horns, singer(s), and everything! Tom absolutely loved it! He’d stay on the piano and listen and purr until I was done or the rehearsal was over.
Although Tom would sit still, stay present, and listen to may types of music, he couldn’t stand the sound of a marching band! As soon as any parade would pass our home, he’d run under the bed or couch and stay there with flattened ears until it had passed and the drums and music were completely out of ear shot!
The idea of trying to teach Tom or any of my previous pets to play the piano never entered my mind but when I first saw what I’m about to share with you, I didn’t know what to think or make of it! But the more I thought about it, I said, “Why not?”
Kanal von Schlauwauwau, who I feature in the virtual magazine’s title article links, makes very serious efforts at teaching her dogs something about music. I agree with a point she made to one of her responders that “dogs really need new challenges like all intelligent creatures”. Her dogs have really taken to their lessons in ear training and note reading! She also has some birds that seem to be interested in music too!
Speaking of birds, check out this parrot dancing to Gangnam-Style. It might do well at piano!
I think that Ms. Schlauwauwau, her dogs, and her birds are awesome! Her work is very interesting to me and I’ll continue to follow her by visiting her YouTube channel. I would love to see this kind of work done with dolphins and other animals known to possess exceptional intelligence. Personally, however, all of my teaching activities will remain focused on working with people of all ages.
1: Anyone who is fluent in any spoken language can learn to improvise and play jazz. 2: People who say, “I can”, and people who say, “I can’t”, are both right!!
I have a great group of students who frequently bring music to class in which they’re interested and who’ll periodically introduce me to musicians of whom I was not aware. Recently, on such an instance, I was introduced to a superbly wonderful Ukrainian musician and I am now his newest fan!
While researching this person, I came across a specific statement he made, and that same statement was echoed verbatim by two of his followers, both of whom are amazingly gifted and extremely accomplished young musicians in their own right! The ages of the two young musicians are 12 and 20-something!
The statement, with which I could not disagree more, originates from an assumption they’ve all made that they “can’t improvise”. All three of these fantastic musicians say they love jazz and they all believe and say they “can’t improvise”. They say have to “read everything”!
To all three of these beautiful people I say, if you love jazz and you really want to play jazz, please discard the “I can’t” phrase from your vocabulary forever! Then find your way to a person like me who can help you because teachers and players of this music may be found in just about every country throughout the world! Art Hodes (1904-1993) was a great jazz pianist from Mykolaiv, Ukraine.
I never played in Ukraine but I did play in several communist countries before the “Iron Curtain” was brought down and I’ll tell you that in every country I played, I met some pretty awesome jazz musicians who could improvise very well. Jazz music is really appreciated and loved around the world.
Remember. Art Tatum said, “You have to practice improvisation, let no one kid you about it!”
So it’s going to take some serious work and it won’t happen overnight but if playing jazz is something that you really want, then don’t let some hard work stand between you and your goal and get out of your own way by ridding yourself of the “I can’t” affliction if you have it! Get a coach and get busy! The positive effects it’ll have on your life is well worth the time and investment.
One sure way to guarantee that you will never get any better or improve is to not practice! On the other hand… One sure way to guarantee that you will definitely get better and improve is to practice! Daily! It’s that simple!
If you need some ideas about things on which you might work in your “practice room”, bookmark this post so you can easily return to “The Virtual Lecture Hall” from time to time to jot down a couple of suggested practice items you’ll see me “write” on the chalkboard.
Now without knowing your current level of musical development or your specific needs, I won’t be able to coach you as effectively as if you were one of my online or in-office students. Nonetheless, I think it’s a good idea to focus and practice on one or a few items at a time.
The “talking points” I brought with me in this version are appropriate for beginner to advanced students. So, each time you click my picture, I’ll go over to the chalkboard and write something that may or may not be appropriate for you. I’ll trust you to know which points speak to you. Have fun!
The Virtual Lecture Hall
If you need some assistance with any of the suggested VLH practice items, contact me anytime. I’m always glad to hear from you.