Posts tagged chords

How Classical Pianists Learn Jazz

I’ll never forget sitting at the piano at age 15 completely frustrated and baffled by the fact that i had witnessed musicians playing without music.  Now these weren’t musicians playing memorized pieces… they were apparently making it up as they went along.  How intriguing!  Improvisation of notes… but how? How did they know what combinations of notes ‘went together’ to make that kind of sound?  Sure i had practiced (ad nauseum) my dominant 7ths… and i had read somewhere that jazz was all about 7ths… but my solid and broken chords sure didn’t sound like any jazz i had ever heard.  Enter Dave Brubeck.  My brother gave me a book called Impressions of New York for Easy Piano (pictured).  If you can get your hands on a copy it’s a FABULOUS book!  But one great thing about Brubeck is that he wrote out what he played.  For Classical died-in-the-wool piano players, this is INVALUABLE because we’re so used to reading… then processing, then playing.  And this book was my first small step into jazz – listening to chords i liked the sound of, extrapolating, analyzing, and integrating into my own playing.  Jazz is all about vocabulary.  Ask a child 7 years of age to write a story.  Ask a well travelled, well read, well educated adult to write a story and you know of what i speak.  It’s the vocabulary of words that make the difference.  In jazz, it’s the chords – the musical words that tell the story.  So next time you play some chord that you like – pause – listen – think – analyze then integrate.  And if you’re not great at experimenting with chords, get a book like Dave Brubeck’s where he weaves together musical concepts – bridging the gap from those who read with those who improvise.

Just Pedaling

pedals

Piano pedals

Did you know that you can spell the word pedalling with two L’s or one? huh… the things you learn… i learned early on in teaching that you can either practice or practise.  ANYWAY… i was on the phone with my sister the other day (piano teacher extraordinaire) and i was telling her about my piano blog… she said “For goodness sakes – do one on pedalling!!!”  And so here it is… (shout out to my sister lol).

Just to clear up any misconceptions; the pedals on a piano are not GAS, BRAKE and CLUTCH.  They’re also not LOUD, MEDIUM and SOFT(which is usually the 2nd guess).  The 3 pedals are 3 S’s: SUSTAIN, SOSTENUTO and SOFT or alternatively: DAMPER, BASS SUSTAIN and UNA CORDA.  Either works really.  Today, however, we’re just going to look at one pedal – the most used by FAR, which is the right pedal known as the sustain/damper.  If you ever see someone playing an electronic piano and they have a cord down to the floor with one pedal, it’s gonna be this one.  The percentage of use for sustain vs. the other two is probably around 95% sustain, 4% soft and about 1% sostenuto.  So the sustain/damper does it all really.  To piano playing i call this pedal the ‘mortar to the bricks’.  This pedal practically ‘fills the cracks’ when you play the piano.  It is used to connect what your fingers can’t hold on to.  So imagine you’re at the piano, you’re playing lots of notes at one time – you then need to almost instantaneously move to another group of notes.  Most times you will audibly hear a gap in between those two sets of notes.  You can, however give the impression that notes are somehow ‘connected’ by moving quickly from one to the next.  Quite a lot of the time though, you just can’t change positions that quickly and thus the need for the sustain pedal.  The sustain pedal keeps the strings ‘live’ by sustaining the notes.  This is accomplished through the dampers (thus both names for this pedal).  dampersWhen the dampers are not sitting on the strings, they are allowed to resonate freely.  So while your fingers are moving to the next notes, the sustained tones from the last chord will continue to resonate until you arrive at the keys.  Make sense?  Then when you come to the next chord, the damper pedal is released, effectively bridging the gap between the notes.  The most difficult part of this pedal is the timing because you need to think ‘bridge’ ALL the time.  After a while though it becomes second nature.

I was at a home recently where i was tuning.  The lady called me a day later and commented on how her piano didn’t sound that good after i left.  I was thinking to myself that i had somehow done an inadequate tuning and promised to stop in.  When i sat at the piano, i rattled off an old song i knew by heart and she said “How come it doesn’t sound like that when i play?”  lol… it was because she had yet to learn about the damper pedal.  I must say that the damper DOES make you sound more professional… but only when executed properly.  Give it a try.  You’ll like it.  Promise.

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