Arrangement Practice Series: part 1

Arrangement Practice 1

I’ve decided to try something a little different today.  I don’t know how it will work, but I thought it would be fun to try.  In case you’ve ever wondered how a musician comes up with arrangements (cover music), I’m going to show you – at least this is how it is for me.

Some of you are familiar with the hymn, “I Stand All Amazed.”  I have been intending for awhile to come up with an arrangement of it, though I’ve never tried with this one before.  I’ve attempted to play it from the hymnbook, and have played the simplified hymns version from sheet music, so I’m quite familiar with the tune, but I’ve never tried to make my own arrangement.

So I’ve decided that for this particular hymn, I would record every bit of practice I do on this song – every minute that I’m working on this hymn, and publish that practice on my blog.  That way, you will hear exactly what I’ve been doing with it.  Obviously it will start rather pathetic.  It’s my first try at it.

My intent is to give non-musicians an idea of what I am doing when I come up with an original arrangement of a well known tune.  You might say I’m trying to expose some of the mysteries of composition.

If you want to know how to develop the skill to be able to work with a tune – or in other words, if you want to know how to get to where I am now, you’ll have to read the “Play by Ear, Write by Heart” series that I have been doing on this blog.  There is much of it yet to come.  But this series, we’ll call it “Arrangement Practice Series,” will be from my first attempt at a tune through to the finished product.  Maybe I’ll even throw in commentary along the way (none of which was spoken while being played – I simply don’t have the ability to do that).

I have no idea how many episodes it will take to have the finished job – maybe 2, maybe 20.

Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 5

Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 5

In my mind, reading music and learning music by ear are completely different. I do read music. I’m rather slow at it, so far. I have known about reading music much longer than I have known anything about music by ear. I have come to conclude that while the principles of both overlap some, the methods of practice and levels of skill are completely different. I say this for a couple of reasons. For one thing, one who is new at the piano will likely feel very intimidated to play in front of a well practiced, sheet-music reading, piano player. While you may hear and see incredible skill and agility in the hands of the experienced, know that some such players have not developed any of the most basic levels of learning by ear. They do have an advantage, even great advantage, because their fingers and minds have developed great capacity for movement and coordination, but they yet lack the skills necessary for playing by ear or heart.

The other reason I mention that learning by ear and reading music are different, is for the sake of those of you who are experienced in reading music. You do have an advantage, and likely you will learn much faster than if you had no experience. But if you have never learned to play by ear, then you must consider that you are learning a whole new skill, a whole new talent that has very little to do with the skill you already have.

Keeping this in mind as you are getting started will keep you from getting discouraged. There is a risk that you may try to learn by ear, find it too basic or too challenging, get impatient with it, and give up. You must not consider that the ability you have will help you develop this new talent. The fact is, it will help you, but if you have that in mind as you try to learn to play by ear, you will likely find yourself getting discouraged, and you’ll eventually give up. I promise you, the effort is well worth whatever time and energy it may take.

If you have practice and experience with both learning by ear and reading music, wonderful! Help others learn these skills, since there are so few who have confidence in their ability to learn these things.

Most of the accomplished musicians I have met have mastered both arts, ear and reading. They find it easy to play by heart. They can write music with ease. There are reasons for this that we will discuss later. I will say that those who learn to play by ear have a much easier time learning to write their own music and play by heart than those who only read music.