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.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Lilliburlero - Use It Or Lose It

A lot of practice today.  Spent some time this morning with the Minuet, playing it through ten times. And then this evening I sat down at the keyboard and had another ten, but was feeling somewhat minueted-out.  So I thought I'd play Lilliburlero for old times' sake, and... I'd forgotten it. I had to dig out the music, and spend I don't know how long getting it back.  But it did come back.  Memories of the summer in Bedford and the Bluthner where I learned it, and the midi keyboard felt very clumsy by comparison. 

Having got Lilliburlero back into the process memory, I went back to the Minuet for a couple of play throughs.  I know my process memory is capable of holding the two tunes, but I realised you need to keep playing the repertoire, even if it does only consist of one and a half tunes, as mine does.  It's difficult to be objective, but the Minuet playing seemed better, perhaps as a result of shuggling the neurons with Lilliburlero?  Anyway, in future I'll give not fixate on one piece again for weeks to the exclusion of all else.

I also did a few G major scales, and was very impressed by how fast I was doing them, without really thinking.  Maybe the Minuet is feeding into that skill.  I've also had a couple of games on the PianoNotes app.  Some progress there. 

A good day at the keys.  Overall practice stamina is growing, I did at least three hours today, and it's getting more enjoyable. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mozart Minuet in G, memorized

Because I'm still a very slow reader, I can't really play anything properly until I've got it memorized. I got there this morning with the Minuet.  Which means I can stop worrying about which keys come next, and start listening to it, and getting it to sound right.  It's also much more enjoyable to practice once I get past the decoding stage.  This morning I played it right through twenty times, and was surprised to look at the time and find that I'd been practising for nearly two hours.

And I have plenty of time.  It's the Haj eid just now.  Nothing much to do in Saudi at the best of times, but even less during a holiday, so there's plenty of time to practice.  I'm keeping note of exactly how long I practice, and how many times I play the piece, and how long I spend on the note reading games, too.  I'm doing this because I expect learning times to get shorter as I move on to the Grade 1 B and C pieces, and I want to have some data to indicate that sort of progress, which will help with motivation if I ever falter in that regard. 

Three more days of holiday, mostly just stuck in the hotel room, so I'm hoping the Minuet is musical by the end of the week, if still somewhat imperfect.  And I really need to get onto a proper piano to polish it off.  Which I'm looking forward to: I'd look on a real piano, any piano, like a long lost comrade now.  Though it's all cool, the midi keyboard has probably been helpful in strengthening the fingers, the action is so much heavier than the real thing. It felt like very hard work a few weeks ago, but it feels almost normal, now.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Mostly Minuet in G K1.E - And Getting Organised

During a day of orientation seminars, of varying quality, I put together a schedule for practice for the coming week on my iPad calendar.  I've divvied up the Minuet into four parts, and set out to devote my daily hour of practice to just one section, that's four or five bars.  That's working through them 2H, playing quite slowly for the most part, and memorizing them, too.  I should finish that procedure later today with the last part.  And then I've got several days off work coming up next week, with nothing else much to do, so I'll then go on to playing right through, 2H, as I did with Lilliburlero on the Bluthner, Play It Again, and Again, and Again... 

With no work to do and time to kill, I won't be limited to an hour a day, so I could get it in the locker by the end of next week.  It'll need a bit of work on a real piano to get it just so, but I'll have done the donkey work. 

I've also started to make a note in the calendar after practice of how long I actually spent, an hour or 50 mins or whatever.  Just to keep me on the straight and narrow, and it'll enable me to see how long each piece is actually taking at the keys.

The PianoNotes app has had an update, and that includes an in-app purchase to work with broken chords, (only 69p, so I went with that).  It seems much more sensible to work with broken chords for now, rather than a random sequence of notes - though that will likely have it's place further down the road.  I spent nearly an hour with that this morning, all in G major,  and made good progress.  Learning to sight read is important, but I'm keeping it separate from learning pieces just now, (though, obviously, the skills overlap). 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Soldiering On With Mozart - Scales

A breakthrough this morning, giving a definite few tickles to the old endorphin production: I've got all LH of the Minuet in the locker: memorized and all joined up. 

The last couple of weeks, I've been warming up with G major scales, all over the 49 keys.  And then broken chords, ditto.  And then the Minuet, RH one day, LH the next.  Because I'm still a fairly slow reader, I find this the only tedious aspect of practice and learning, decoding from the page to the fingers.  But it's worth it for the morning when I get there, at least with one hand, and can play it all through from memory. 

RH tomorrow, and if I get a good run at it I should have that memorized too. Although it's trickier than LH, I've probably spent more time on it over the last couple of weeks.  And then Sunday, I can get started with two hands. Which will be hilarious, the notes which tripped off the fingers with one hand just seem to get lost somewhere when I start with two.

It'll be interesting to see how long it takes.  Lilliburlero, comparable in length and difficulty, took me a month on that Bluthner, but at that time I was spending less than an hour a day, usually 40 minutes or so, and missed the odd day, so probably did 20 hours over the month.  Whereas now, with bugger all else to do in a Saudi hotel room, I'm doing a full hour, more at weekends, rarely missing.  We shall see.

I'd usually finish off a practice with a few goes on the sight-reading app.  But it occurred that this might be counter productive.  The app produces a number of random notes, (I'm working with eight at the moment) on a clef, alternating between the two clefs, about five turns each.  Then you get a score based on an algorithm involving the number of mistakes and speed. 

The random nature of it is what might be counter productive to the practice I've just finished, namely learning a piece, Mozart at the moment.  I mean, it's not musical, and my brain is trying to recall a pattern of notes as Wolfgang wrote them, which certainly are musical.  I worry that the random series might interfere with the non-random series I'm attempting to process. 

Anyways, I need to learn to sight read, and I think the app's good for that, but I'll not use it straight after practicing/learning/decoding a piece.  Keep it as a discrete bit of practice.  A game.

As for scales, I was interested by this idea I bumped into on Twitter this morning.  I had a go, but the midi keyboard hasn't enough keys or sensitivity for it. I like the idea, though, getting out of a two octave, forte, fast-as-possible rut.  So this is a note-to-self to come back to that when I'm home with the Kemble, or when I get 88 weighted keys here.

Which is going to be a sheer joy.  I mean, the midi keyboard has worked out better than I'd hoped, but it's cramped and unnatural, (there's a metaphor regarding my life in Saudi, there, somewhere).  On the plus side, I suspect it's strengthened my fingers, though, it being much harder work to depress the keys - I'm looking forward to seeing how a proper keyboard feels, after this.