zondag 28 september 2008

Repeated Notes

When I first started learning to read music it seemed easy if the same note was repeated, it's easier to hit the same note again with the same finger than it is to search for a new note on the keyboard.

But when trying to play faster pieces, then repeated notes create special problems. It's difficult to hit the same note repeatedly with the same finger and to make it sound fluent, the speed will be limited and there will be a big gap between the notes.

A good habit is to play repeated notes faster by changing fingers. For instance, at 0:19 in this video the note D is repeated 3 times in a row. Trying to play it with the thumb 3 times in a row made it sound jerky, so instead I play it using fingering 1,2,1. At 0:20 you can see the note A is also repeated 3 times, I play it with 5,4,5.

It's one of those cases where sometimes you have to go a bit backwards in order to go forwards, at first this fingering felt awkward, but after a bit of practice it really makes things easier and helps with speeding the piece up.

dinsdag 23 september 2008

How to Practice

I don't often practice in a very efficient way. Often I play my favourite tunes, repeating the same old mistakes, that's not really practice, it's having fun - that's OK, but I don't fool myself that it's a way to make any progress.

It's much better to go over the difficult parts, playing it slowly and precisely, to get into the habit of playing it right. But it's not always easy to have this discipline.

One thing that's really helped me to improve is recording my practice and making these videos. Many faults are obvious on the recordings that I don't even notice while playing, and it's a good exercise to try to get a good "take".

I made this recording tonight, it took about 5 tries to get one I was satisfied with, and even then it has one wrong note. I got another take with no wrong notes but somehow the life was missing from the piece. I tried it again but but then I was getting tired and it got worse, so I published this one.

See what you think. Perhaps you'll notice the wrong note, perhaps not. I know it's there so one day I'll do it again, but for now I hope you enjoy it.

zondag 21 september 2008

Musette waltz

Musette waltz

This is a little piece I wrote myself. I've often spent time "noodling" and picking out bits of tunes, but I thought it'd be a good exercise to try to write a piece and finish it off properly.

I'd be very happy to hear ideas from other musicians about how it can be improved.

Here's the score. There's a lot of software available for publishing music but I think there's something pleasing about writing a score by hand.

Street Music

Today I went busking on the street. It's the first time I've ever done it.

It's not easy to find a good spot, it needs to be some place where there are plenty of people walking past, but not directly in front of someone's house or business. Many of the best spots are already taken.

I found a good spot near the river in Nijmegen where the cruise boats come and go.

It was a nice experience, at first I was nervous but the main thing is to relax and smile.

Several people stopped and chatted to me, and quite a few kind people put money in my hat. Best of all, two people danced in the street :-)

Any kind of performance is great practice, because when mistakes happen (and I make a lot) you can't just stop, you have to find a way to cover the mistakes, carry on and keep the piece going.

Chords and Keys

Vamping with Stradella

The accordion is a great instrument for learning how music works. I played piano for 30 years but never really got to grips with chords and harmonies, it just wasn't clear which chords fitted with which key, and why.

A few years of playing accordion has taught me a lot, the reason is the cunningly simple Stradella Bass System. At first sight it looks anything but simple....

The reason this arrangement is so powerful is that it is a relative system. The buttons are arranged in rows, each one representing a key.

Take the row in the middle for "C". The first two rows play a single note, in this case the root note C. Below it are chords for C major, C minor and C7.

Move one row to the right and you find the chords for G. Move one row to the left and you find F.

G is the fifth note of the scale of C, and C is the fifth note of the scale of F. So each row is one fifth higher than the previous one.

The beauty of this system is that the chords you will need for a particular key are all close together. Typically for playing in C, the most common harmony will use C, G and F. These are the 1st, 5th and 4th notes of the scale. You'll see that these buttons are all next to each other.

Play the same tune in the key of G and you'll need chords G, D and C. These are also next to each other in the same pattern, just shifted to the right.

The chords are in harmonic order rather than ascending order as on a piano keyboard. So to transpose a tune into a different key, you use the same fingering but with a different starting position. Clever eh?