Friday, April 08, 2016

2 Things Classical Pianists Need to Know About Learning Pop and Jazz Chords

Classical pianists often have a lot of difficulty playing the chordal style of jazz and pop music. Perhaps it's because classical piano emphasizes technical passages that value scales, arpeggios, and counterpoint above straight chords. Or perhaps classical piano's emphasis on reading skills de-emphasizes the deep listening and kinaesthetic experience of playing chords (often from chord symbols) that jazz/pop pianists are so familiar with.

At any rate, most intermediate classical pianists have some catching up to do, and their affinity for playing some sort of popular music is tempered by the difficulty of working through a lot more chords than they are used to reading in a piece.

Here are two steps for getting the chords right:
  1. Read the correct notes for each chord from bottom to top. Don't just get a general sense of the chord or guess at it. Read every single note from bottom to top to ensure full accuracy. Yes, that includes accidentals too. 
  2. Remember the sound and feeling of where your fingers go. This is the area where non-classical pianists really shine. If you're developing these skills as a classical pianist, focus on the particular sound quality of the chord, as well as the distances between fingers and relationship of white to black notes.
Transferring to kinaesthetic and auditory memory as soon as possible is very important for classical pianists learning jazz and pop music. If this doesn't happen, you might find yourself in the unenviable position of having to re-learn the notes every single time you play.

Once you're comfortable with the style, next steps include learning how to play from chord symbols alone and discovering the improvisational art of jazz.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Photo of the Day

I took this picture yesterday at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto using an iPhone 6 with tilt-shift and filter added using TiltShiftGen2. If you're on Instagram, you can follow me here.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Opera + Hardcore Punk

Congrats to Toronto's Tapestry Opera on making the CBC Arts list of 10 artists reshaping Canada's artistic landscape for their recent collaboration with the hardcore punk band F--cked Up. Watch the video here.

Art Song + Dressage Riding

Dressage rider Audrey Zehnder is the backdrop for Lori Laitman's Old Tunes, as performed by soprano Natalie Mann and pianist Jeffrey Panko. You can find more songs by Lori Laitman and Richard Pearson Thomas on Natalie's recently released Experience.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Study for Orchestra by Julia Perry

William Steinberg leading the New York Philharmonic in a poignant and energetic 1965 performance of Julia Perry's Study for Orchestra:

You can find more information about Julia Perry here, here, and here.

Happy New Year 2016!

One of the great things about the new year is that no matter how challenging or disappointing the previous 12 months have been, the promise of a new one can be a strong impetus for the change that is needed in order to bring about true success.

Whether it be learning new repertoire, improving your playing, working towards a university program, learning a new skill, or re-evaluating your career priorities, the next few days are the time to set your goals so that you can meet with success in the coming year.

More than just setting a vague resolution, finding the system that helps you to make core changes is the best way to hit those targets. Here are some links that you might find useful in your path:

May you make significant progress on the road towards achieving your potential and best wishes from the Collaborative Piano Blog for a healthy and profitable 2016!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Ask the Readers: How to Divide a Staff Accompanist Position Between Vocal and Instrumental Duties?

piano by antony griffiths on Flickr
A reader recently sent in a question for the readership of the blog, which is copied below with identity and location redacted:
Hi there! I am wondering if there is a way to ask a question to you and the collaborative piano community (as it relates to this blog) as a whole. I am a full time "staff accompanist" at a University in ___________, and lately have come under a bit of fire because some of my colleagues have questions about the fact that the vocal students in my department seem to get so much more of my time than the instrumental students. I'm basically trying to gather information from other pianists that do what I do - and see if they do, in fact, give the lion's share of their time to vocalists. Of course, when I worked as a freelancer, this was the way my clients preferred it, but I'm having trouble convincing my instrumental faculty colleagues of the vocal students inherent need for more time with their pianists in their regular weekly preparation for their lessons etc. So to propose a clear question for the blog, how do other university staff pianists divide up their time between vocal and instrumentalists and how is that time coordinated: by the pianists themselves, by the students, or by the students' teachers. 
I hope this wasn't too convoluted! I do look forward to hearing from you and any help you, or any one from the site, could offer would be so appreciated. I have reached out to a few colleagues of mine who do the same type of work at other universities, but a wider pool of opinions is always better.

Clearly this pianist should not have to come under fire personally for a lack of foresight by a music department. How should this person address the situation? Should they take charge and negotiate a clearer division of hours between departments? Or should they ask the department for the leadership they should have provided in the first place and clearly assign the allotment/division of hours for their staff accompanist position?

Your comments are welcome, as always. You're welcome to comment anonymously on the blog if you would rather not divulge your identity when offering your opinion!