Saturday, August 11, 2012

21st century piano student

I use both my iPad 2, iPhone 4 and the Jawbone Jambox to assist with my piano journey. Here you can see the iPad loaded up with Musician's Practise Journal, a great little app for organising and tracking one's practise and overall progress as a student. I have found this app has really tightened up my practise routine and enhanced the results I am obtaining especially in scales. It tracks the time and provides a means to record the last metronome setting. After the practise is finished, it provides both a written overview of each individual session and a graphical one of all practise sessions. Using sensibly named folders it also helps to keep track of all your repertoire and the stage it is at in the practise process. I highly recommend it.
I am using the Visual Metronome app on the iPhone which is great but it does not quite have enough volume. I could use wired or even wireless earbuds/phones but they restrict being able to hear the piano sound. Instead, I am sending the audio to a most awesome personal wireless speaker, the Jawbone Jambox, sitting on top of the piano to amplify the output so as I can hear it more clearly.
I also send the audio to the Jambox to listen to the hundreds of scores, I have on the iPad whilst using ForScore to view them. It does so very well, is quite functional to use to play from also and has an auto page turn facility.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Half yearly piano lesson report

So, I have been having piano lessons for half a year and I can report that I have certainly progressed and that I have every intention of continuing lessons with the right Reverend Franz Moeller.
I now have some 10 pieces in my repertoire including:
1. The first 4 Duvernoy studies
2. The first two pieces from The Children's Bach
3. A transcription of the theme from Schubert's Unfinished Symphony from John Thompson's 3rd grade book
3. A Tarantella by John Thompson also from his 3rd grade book
4. A transcription of the first motive from the Andante of Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony
5. The Purcell Minuet from Easy Classics to Moderns Volume 17
6. All 3 movements of the Clementi Sonatina also from Easy Classics to Moderns
The main change to my technique that I have had to concentrate on is playing much more lightly than I am used to in order to get a more singing tone. Apparently, this is a common problem for players who have only ever used a digital piano. So after 6 months and the assistance of an acoustic piano in the U3, which, thankfully, is finally getting tuned as I write this post, I have started to habitually do this much to Franz's relief.
I have also been playing the following 2 octave scales with two hands in contrary and similar motion.
C, G, D, A & E major scales
A, E & D minor scales
I am very keen to be as competent a sight reader on the piano as I am on the guitar because it is so advantageous in being able to play lots of repertoire. So yesterday, I was very pleased to hear from Franz how impressed he was with my sight reading of the 2nd piece in The Childrens Bach. So I am on track there also. I have also continued the study of jazz piano under my own steam. Currently, I am concentrating on learning standards focusing on being able to:
1. Play the melody over the chord progression using rootless shapes.
2. Improvising over those same rootless shapes and
3. Transferring those rootless shapes to the right hand for comping.
I have also continued to practise improvising the blues in different keys over various walking bass patterns using minor and major pentatonics and the diminished scale. I am absolutely delighted that after 2 and a half years of playing the piano I can finally improvise over the shuffle rhythm Root, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 5th pattern that one hears in the blues so often. It is still a little insecure but well on the way to where I need to get it. This new found independence has opened up the possibility of further interesting variations in the left hand.
So all in all I am happy with my progress and look forward to seeing where I have go to in another 6 months!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Unreal iRealBook!

Thanks to Jazzwee, whose blog I discovered today, I have just downloaded iRealBook, an incredibly useful app for the aspiring jazz player. It is brilliant as it plays chord charts (no melody or lyrics thereby avoiding copyright issues) in a number of different styles. More charts are being added all the time but there is a core group of 1200 jazz tunes plus heaps of Latin, Brazilian and a good selection of Pop too to boot. You can also create your own charts and iRealBook will create a backing track for you. Another brilliant feature is that it copes with transposing instruments so all you trumpeters, saxophonists and clarinetists can get in on the act too.
Get it now for your Mac, iPad, iPhone or Android phone.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dave Frank on Bill Evans

I discovered the seemingly unknown, but quite remarkably knowledgeable and talented jazz pianist and teacher Dave Frank by accident recently. It did not take me long before I ordered both of his Joy of Improv books which I really like the look of as they are set out in graded curriculum style using 26 lessons. Each lesson contains a technical exercise, hip jazz voicings, a solo pattern for transposition, an original blues tune and a jazz line based on a standard. Dave has also done a great series of video lessons and the one I have watched took apart Bill Evans playing and technique using the tune "A Time For Love". About the best explanation I have come across to date of how these great jazz players but together their real-time compositions. Here is the first in the series of 8 videos Dave has put together for this lesson alone. Enjoy!

Clavier Companion

I really like the Pianist magazine which I have posted about here. Yesterday, I did a little google search for other keyboard/piano magazines and discovered Clavier Companion which I think has only been in existence for a little while as there are only 9 issues dating back to 2010. It is perhaps aimed at the more experienced pianist being a little more erudite than Pianist with some great in depth analysis articles. Like Pianist it is published every 2 months and they also offer an iPad app. Although, their website offers a digital edition to subscribe to it appears that if you use the iPad app you can download the issues for free as I have done just that. with 8 of them. Do check it out as I think you will find it is well worth it.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

While I was away, the U3 arrived, the...........

.................police and the state power company and I owe Michelle big time! The furniture removalist engaged to pick up the U3 from Perth and deliver it here to Denmark had driven up our street in his truck many times. This time unfortunately, he managed to knock down a power line 2 doors up just before he got to my place.

Despite all this, the U3 is now ensconced happily in it's new home. It will wait patiently for the piano tuner to arrive for a touch up tune, some hammer pricking and damper unsticking too I would think. It is such a privilege to have a real piano to play on and I look forward to the difference that I know it will make for me as a player.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Yamaha U3

Now I have had a term of piano lessons, it has become evident that if I am serious about learning to play, then  using a digital piano to do so is not going to do the job. My teacher Franz is constantly telling me to play more softly and I have had further confirmation recently that overplaying is a typical fault of players who have only used a digital piano. So, I have been researching the possibility of getting an acoustic piano and this had led me to the conclusion that a grey market Yamaha U3 is probably the best option providing a great combination of quality and value. I started off thinking that a U2 would do the job as any piano I might purchase, had to have a practice pedal, but quickly discovered that there was a wider availability of U3s. As I knew I would be in Perth this week, I googled for private sales of Yamaha pianos and up popped a U3 for $4300.00 which was within my price range. After a 5 hour trip to Perth and multiple txt messages, I arrived at the owner Amelia's home to view and play the piano. Her baby was asleep, but fortunately it was time for him to get up anyway, so I got stuck into this U3 which sounded very well, played nicely and I was able to confirm that the pedals did their job. It was clearly in need of a tune and a couple of the lower keys were obviously suffering from lack of use but came good with a bit of massaging. Amelia mentioned that her father had originally purchased the U3 for her from a Peter Hudson at Piano World in Bentley. After I had done a bit of playing, some further conversation about the piano revealed that Amelia was a jazz singer and pianist who had probably been appalled with what she had just heard. Coincidentally, she had studied at WAAPA also as I had back in the early 1980s. I never buy anything on the spot but told Amelia what I was likely to offer and that I would get back to her either way once I had reflected further and checked out what Piano World had to offer. That turned out to be an experience in itself eventually resulting in my confirming an offer of $4000.00 to Amelia and ultimately agreeing on $4100.00.
Peter Hudson's Piano World was a complete and utter eyeopener with not one but two showrooms absolutely chockablock with pianos and most of them were U3s!  Apart from supplying many other brands, Peter told me all about the quality Yamaha grey market pianos he specialises in importing and how they are stripped and brought up to scratch before being sold. I had the pleasure of playing about 6 U3s and all of them displayed a quite unexpected character, touch and tone of their own.  I would have loved to purchase one of them particularly, but it was going to cost me $7000.00 including freight. The fact that Amelia's U3 was purchased from Peter only 4 years earlier meant it was a no brainer that it would be worth purchasing the one she was offering for nearly $3000 less. It is going to cost me a very reasonable $350 to get the U3 to Denmark and, as soon as Amelia confirms the funds have appeared in her account, I will engage Albany furniture removalist Gary Sweetnam to do so. I can barely wait!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

How are the lessons going Robin?

Well, I thought you would never ask! Great, really great. I am spending far more time at the piano each day now as I have so much to work on.

1. Scale of C two octaves each hand and both hands in contrary and similar motion.
2. Duvernoy studies 1 & 2.
3. A one page arrangement of the beautiful main theme of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony.
4. The 3 canons from the beginning of The Children's Bach.
5. The Henry Purcell Minuet from the Easy Classics to Moderns series
6. Various technique exercises from The Joy of First Year Piano Technique.
7. I am still working on a couple of my own pieces Edison's Tune and Yungup and continuing to play Andy's Song and keeping up with my improvising.

Has my playing improved you ask? Hell yeh! I am bedding the notes to the key bed now and even on my digital piano the tone is better and I am actually hearing some new qualities to the sound of the notes.
I have also made a little discovery which has really helped thumb under crossing on a white key scale. I have not heard of this anywhere but I am placing my fingers closer to the ends of the black keys and particularly so on the note held by the finger immediately before the note the thumb needs to cross under to play. Probably common knowledge but sometimes it is worthwhile discovering this sort of thing for oneself.

Monday, February 20, 2012

First ever piano lesson

Yesterday, I had my first ever official piano lesson with the Reverend Franz Moeller. I chose Franz because I knew that he was prepared to get out and present recitals and I was keen to have a teacher that understood the repertoire from a performers point of view. We had a preliminary meeting last week so as we could meet each other, I could play and give him some idea of where I was at so as he could devise a pathway for me. Because I have tertiary level training on the classical guitar and understand and read music well already, I told him that I felt I needed reining in and assistance with honing an orthodox piano technique. He was straight on to it and I arrived for the first lesson this week to discover he had purchased 3 books for me to start work from. "The Joy of First Year Piano Technique", "The Children's Bach" and "Duvernoy's Elementary Studies Opus 176". We worked mainly on getting an even legato sound using the scale of C in both hands and varying dynamic levels. I found it very difficult to play softly and evenly and I think this is due to the slightly unorthodox way my hand sits at the keys. I say that because during my first practise session this morning, following yesterdays lesson, I am already making a change to my hand positions to get the thumb pointing more directly up towards the back of the key it happens to be on. This has enabled me to get more curl in the fingers, more control of the dynamics and follow through with the thumb more efficiently as Franz mentioned that I needed to do. Fantastic progress already!

Thursday, February 9, 2012


I have obtained a lot of my scores from the fantastic Petrucci Music Library website and the other day I stumbled upon an iPad app named Padrucci that brings the library directly to your iPad foregoing the need to use a secondary application to store your scores. Brilliant! Not so brilliant at first actually, but now doing what it should; see my comments below!
I have also discovered a couple of useful videos recently too. The first being a series of 4 lessons with Seymour Bernstein based on his best selling book "With your own two hands".  He goes deep into the mechanics of playing the piano both from the pianos point of view and the human playing it. One tip he suggested, that made an immediate difference to my playing, was to consciously relax the underside of the forearms as there is a natural inclination to tense this area particularly if the going is getting a little difficult. Most edifying!

The second channel I think might be worth your while checking out is Paul Barton's "Classical Piano in Thailand" of all places. This guy really knows his stuff and is a pretty handy player too. I first discovered him by accident really when I viewed his lesson on Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu.

After an interesting and quite lengthy historical explanation of the piece and his views on why Frederic refused to publish it he hops in to how to play it. This explanation included some very useful diagrams such as the following explaining how triplets in the left hand fit with semiquavers in the right hand which is an integral part of this Impromptu. Bloody good stuff and I will be checking out more of his videos.

The final part of this lengthy and feature filled post is that I had the unexpected opportunity to play a brand new Kawai Baby Grand and it was a pleasure and I would have liked to have spent a lot more time playing it. The lucky owner is an acquaintance of ours who runs the local newspaper with her husband. It looks like she and I will be sharing the same piano teacher starting in March and I will let you know more about that soon.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Composition on the iPad 2

I am pretty excited because yesterday I discovered Symphony Pro. A very capable app for the iPad allowing me to write music anywhere, anytime. The developers have cleverly implemented the touch screen interface in a quite intuitive way to get the dots on to the stave with a finger. Alternatively, you can use the internal keyboard or an external keyboard, which I have done using my Yamaha S90XS with the Apple camera connection kit and a USB cable from the To Host USB port.
Incredibly, you can import pdf, jpg, gif, png and bmp files and the experimental sheet music scanner will have a crack at converting it into an editable MusicXML file. At this point in time it is not always successful but does put the file in to a format that allows you to then send it to Sibelius or Finale for further work. As I use Sibelius the Dolet plug-in needs to be installed to read the MusicXML file.
As well as MusicXML, you can export in PDF (B&W and colour), MP3, AAC, MIDI and as a Symphony file to share with other Symphony users.
This app is new so it has frozen on me a couple of times but the developers are resolving these issues very quickly. The app costs $15.99 here in Australia and is worth every penny. When I first got an iPad 2 I had no idea how much I would be using it in my musical life but it has already become an essential tool as I keep many of my scores on it using OnSong and now it has become even more useful!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Newcomer - Edison's Tune!

Newcomer - Edison's Tune by Ramsnake

I wrote this piece to mark the birth of my first grandchild Edison James Cornwallis Thomson on the 11th of January 2012. It happens to be a good exercise in arpeggiated octaves too! You can get the dots from Score Exchange here!