Posts tagged learning

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.

The Reason I Play the Piano…

On a recent flight home from Toronto, i decided to take a few days in Winnipeg and visit my parents.  They’re still living in the same house i was raised in.  It’s quaint and everything seems much smaller (as i grew to be the tallest in the family)… even my parents are shorter than ever! hahaa… Anyway, i had forgotten about the conversations that happened not during dinner but after.  In this hustle bustle world of instant everythings, i presently throw all the dishes in the dishwasher, press start and walk away.  Not so in my parent’s house where they’ve never owned a dishwasher.  Post-dinner conversation led into doing-the-dishes conversation.  As we laughed and reminisced, i finally said to them “Y’know why i play the piano today right? Well… after dinner as a teenager Dad would always say ‘Who’s practicing piano and who’s doing the dishes?'”  Hahaaaa as a teenager, if you have a choice between cleaning up or playing the piano, my vote was always practicing.  I’d like to think that i somewhat enjoyed the piano when i was growing up but truth be told, it was part of the daily regimen… the fabric of our lives back then.  And without the technology of the dishwasher in our house, i learned escapism at the piano.  SMILES.

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