Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Blogging Continues, Nontheless

I read somewhere, (The Guardian, probs, but can't find the link now), that personal blogging is about done with, that most of us have moved on in social networking terms.  Subjectively, that's probably about right - I used to post here almost daily. And now it's monthly. But it's coming up ten years now, and this does a job that FB and Twitter don't do.  Really, it's a place to note how things are getting along with stuff I'm interested in, but that will tend to make anyone else's eyes glaze over when I start talking about them: photography, gardening, the piano. 


Photography is SO noughties, now. I use the iPhone to get photos - and that means I'm just concentrating on the image, no longer on the process and the gear.  And all that gear, like the Nikon F, I was going to put it all on eBay, but it was all purchased and taken so much care of over a decade, it seems a pity to part with it for mere lucre. So I'm going to box it all up and Molly or someone else can get the benefit from it in the future.  Ten years ago, I would have been overjoyed to get a treasure chest of cameras and developing gear and film, and I hope someone gets some joy, some time.

Gardening is back on the agenda.  I hope to be finished with Saudi next Spring, insha-bloody-lah, by which time I'll be advanced enough on the Kennyhill Allotments waiting list to get at least a raised bed, maybe a quarter-plot, which will be just right to ease me back into gardening. Hoping to get a full plot with a shed and a greenhouse, the whole bit, in a couple of years. 

Meanwhile, the old Kemble is settling in and growing on me. It's sticky keys have stopped sticking, (apparently Molly and her wee pal give it a good bashing once a week, whilst I'm away, which might explain that - it just needs plenty of use). It might be ever so slightly out of tune, but nothing hurtful on the ear, and I'll get it tuned to concert pitch when I'm home full time.  

Yesterday I walked across George Sq. There are a couple of pianos there now, I don't know if it's just for the Commonwealth Games or if they're to be a permanent feature, (and what happens when it rains?)  There were some kids plink-plonking as I passed the first time, but on the way back an old man was playing some boogie woogie - he was clearly an amateur, but competent. Quite a crowd had gathered, and they cheered and clapped when he finished.  

I'm still learning the keys. For each one, I do hands an octave apart, up and down, different tempos. Then contrary motions, then arpeggios.  I've got this routine down pretty well in C, D and E major, and made a start on F and G. In the last week or so, I've added the 12 bar blues to this routine, so far only in C, (two hands, octave apart) - I've got a feeling this is very important, though I'm not quite sure why yet. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Back to Basics

I've tried and failed now to learn three quite simple pieces, She Moves Through the Fair, Water of Tyne, and Down at the Old Bull and Bush, and it's been such hard work I've not gotten past a few bars on each of them.  So I'm leaving off the pieces until I've spent a whole lot more time with scales and arpeggios.  I was telling Chris at work about this, and he kindly pointed out that I haven't got a good ear - have to admit he's right there, he led us in some singing and he would have noticed.  


So I'm working with the scales, still C major, and now D major. I've got all the key's chords, scales and arpeggios on sheet music - an A4 page for each key, thirty or so in all. So I plan to be doing two at a time, until I get really good at one of them, so that I can play it all over the keyboard without even thinking about it, and then I'll move onto another key, always learning two at a time so that I don't get bored with it.  

And I've got a few apps for my ear.  Or rather for the bunch of synapses or whatever it is that deal with my pitch recognition, currently apparently grown from cloth. I've just bought an iphone, and can spend any idle moments listening to singing blobs, and identifying the note each of them sings.  

And there's another app with a keyboard, a bit advanced for me yet, but it's tutorial had an exercise which I've heard before, and so it's probably a well known practice drill, not until this week known to me however. I really like it. Two eighth notes in the tonic, then a quarter one key up, quarter back on the tonic, rest, two eighths, and then up one more, and back again. So in C it's C-C, D, C; C-C, E, C; et seq. I've been practising it today in C, two hands. It's good because you're getting across the octave in one hand, with the 1RH and 5LH staying on the tonic. 

Seriously thinking of investing in a lesson or two when I'm home in a month's time. I need a good teacher.  I'll probably need to shop around, find one I'm going to get on with long term, so I may as well start now, it could take a while. I need some advice on getting structure in practice, something to fill an hour - I'm just not doing the hour that I should be.  Some days only 15 - 20 mins.  

On the other hand a day never passes when I don't sit down and do at least a few scales. I need a teacher's advice on ways to measure progress, help with my day to day motivation. At the moment, it's a vague intention to be able to play all kinds of stuff in a band by the time I'm 60. But there's a mountain to climb before that, a massive one, and I could do with some milestones. 

I've also realised that I need some competence with the virtual keyboards on tablets and phones. When I tell my students I'm learning keyboards, they naturally whip out their phones and ask for a tune, so I need to learn a few one handed ditties on my iphone. This new wee scale exercise, for starters. 



Saturday, May 24, 2014

high up the keys

http://youtu.be/Yz7rOwuEzJE


That's a link that's made me look at and feel the keyboard in a whole different way.  What he's saying about chords is interesting, but the main thing is about playing higher up the keys - something I've noticed all good piano players do.  I've been playing the ends of the keys, especially as I've been working in C major for the last couple of months.  But since I saw that video, I've gone back to basics, and started back on scales, (C major, one octave apart, up-and-down four or five octaves, arpeggios, and contrary motion) high up the keys.

It's a difficult adjustment, and I'm much slower and mistake-prone, but it (literally) feels right.  For example, on the contrary motion scale, I'm aware that when one hand's playing F, the other's playing G: I'm aware because being higher up the keys I'm more in touch with what key it actually is - the end of the keys in C are, after all, the same - only when you're high up and brushing the sharps and flats, can you get a feeling for each individual key. 




Friday, April 18, 2014

Broadwood

I said 'wow' out loud playing the first octave of a scale on that Broadwood in Biggars a couple of weeks ago.  It's made me think.  And then having got home and had some practice time on the Kemble, and it's coming out of the comparison very badly. Of course, I could get it tuned again, get something done about the sticky keys, and maybe even invest in some more significant resoration. but is it worth it?  Maybe I should get a Broadwood when I'm finished in Saudi? we could make a wee holiday of it, travelling the islands, visiting second hand piano shops.  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Have scales, need tunes

Had the Yamaha keyboard two or three months now. Getting quite adept at scales and arpeggios in several keys. I do the scales two handed, an octave apart, across four or five octaves altogether.    I've got some tips on YouTube, learning to not waggle my elbows, and to sit up straight. I do ten or fifteen minutes every morning before I go out to work, and then another three or four fifteen or twenty minute practises in the evening, more at the weekend. 

I need to move on now, and build up a repertoire. At the moment it's pitiful, consisting solely of my old mate Lilliburlero, which I still play several times each day, now singing the There Was An Old Woman words - it was difficult to do at first, singing and playing at the same time, but it seems to be like riding a bike, and I've got the knack now. 

Home in Glasgow I bought a book of Songs You Think You Know, a hundred standards with "easy piano" arrangements - I've turned my nose up at these in the past, thinking I'd do better to work with the original arrangements, but I really need to learn to walk before I run. 

Typing this on holiday in Lanzarote, and not been on a keyboard for nearly two weeks - absence is making the heart grow fonder, and being reunited with the Yamaha will sweeten the pill of returning to Saudi, somewhat. I brought Songs You Think You Know to Lanzarote, and I've chosen Down at the Old Bull and Bush to get me started. The idea that's formed is that I want to be able to play songs people can sing along to, in a bar, say. 

After the electronic Yamaha, a couple of days at home with the Kemble showed it's very, let's say, idiosyncratic. I had a play on an old Broadwood upright in Biggars on Sauchihall Street and Oh My God it was gorgeous, very responsive and bright. At some point in the next couple of years I need to decide whether to get the Kemble restored or buy something better. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Back in the saddle with a Yamaha

At last got through to Jeddah and bought a DGX-230. It wasn't quite what I'd aspired to, but they didn't have any Rolands or Korgs in the shop. It isn't even fully weighted, but it feels comfy to play on, and it's probably just right for the stage I'm at. 


I'd gotten so fed up with the feel and limitations of the midi keyboard, that I've done little practice lately, but I'm back at it now with the new toy. Doing lots of scales, hands one or two octaves apart, across three or four octaves. Can do C major with eyes closed. I think scales in lots of keys need a lot of work. 

I've also found some words for the tune of Lilliburlero:

There was an old woman
Tossed up in a basket
Seventeen times as high as the moon.
Where was she going,
I just had to ask it,
For in her hand she carried a broom.

"Old woman, old woman,
Old woman," said I,
"Please tell me, please tell me,
Why you're up so high?"
"I'm sweeping the cobwebs
Down from the sky."
"May I come with you?"
"Yes, by-and-by!"

Which is a pleasantly trippy wee ditty. I'm starting to learn, tonight, to sing and play at the same time. 

I've got a couple of left hand bass lines now, and I plan to learn some blues licks and riffs. Werewolves of London is still a work in progress. So I've got plenty of practice to be getting on with. 

Plan to get lessons when I'm home in the summer. But for now, as Father Ted had it, "How do I get to Carnegie Hall from here...?"


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Climbing Off the Plateau - ABRSM Grade 1

Here's a new practice regime I've started today:

  1. Lilliburlero (x2) - 2-3 mins
  2. Mozart Minuet in G (x2) - 2-3 mins
  3. Learning Sailor's Song - 20-30 mins
  4. All Grade 1 scales and broken chords, x2 - 20 mins (?)
  5. PianoNotes game, using keys from Grade 1 scales. (optional) - 10 mins
  6. Learning another piece outside Grade 1, eg Waters of Tyne (optional) - no set time
  7. Theory book (at keyboard) (optional) - no set time
1-4 plus one from 5-7 are must-do every day, with more at the weekends or if I'm feeling keen in the week. 

The reasoning is that I've decided to go with the ABRSM grades to give me structure, so I should therefore use that structure in practice.  Eventually, probably a month or so from now, Sailor's Song will join the repertoire, to be followed by Chattanooga Choo Choo.

And I'll start each practice playing the whole lot through, x2, plus anything else I manage to learn.  This should keep me going until I get the proper keyboard and some lessons, when I can take advice about getting through the Grade 1, and in particular improving my playing of the pieces. 

As for the lessons, there are no piano teachers in Yanbu that I can find online.  I'll need to get some when I'm home on holiday. 

Et, voila.  Remotivated and heading back to the broad sunlit uplands.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Plateau

Sent this week with fairly short practices, usually half an hour a day. I play through Lilliburlero and the Minuet several times each.  And then some scales and broken chords, mostly C major.  And then The Sailor's Song.  Sometimes I'll play on PianoNotes.

But it feels like I've reached a lull.  Sometimes it's a bit of a chore.  And it's demotivating that after all this time and God only knows how many play throughs, I still can't really play Lilliburlero or the Minuet.  I know all the notes, but there are still hesitations, they don't exactly flow.

I think the bottom line is I need a teacher and a proper keyboard to practice on. I can't see anything on line for lessons locally, so I need to think about that one.  And I really need to get out of the hotel and get a flat before I get a proper keyboard.  Which is a whole other story. 

Meanwhile, I'll plod on with the midi keyboard and learn everything I need to for Grade 1.  And just keep on practising.  It's not ideal, but it's not going to be time wasted in the long run.  Not counting my false start in 2010, I've really only been learning since March this year.  Eight months.  There's a long, long way to go...

Friday, October 18, 2013

Having a Happy Hajj Holiday at the Keys

Temporarily taken aback last night to think I'd lost Lilliburlero got me thinking.  I've been too long stuck in the Minuet and G major.  So this morning I played my meagre repertoire through, several times. I went back to C major scales and broken chords as well as G major.  And then I got started on Swinstead's Sailor's Song, a jolly wee tune, and worked on the first three bars, RH, LH, and then both.

So, the plan is to learn the Swinstead, and then Chattanooga Choo Choo, all the while not neglecting Mozart and Lilliburlero, and also practising all manner of scales and broken chords.  I'll need to work out how much time to spend on everything.  I also want to study musical theory, and I've got an ebook for that.  Part of my reasoning for changing focus from one piece and its key, to several pieces and keys, is the realization, (again, courtesy of my old mate Lilliburlero) that it's impossible for me to get any piece just right on this plastic midi keyboard.  I can learn all the notes, but I'm going to need weighted keys to get it musical.