Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 15


Write by Heart


Writing by Heart

tabExplaining the process of writing your own original music by heart is challenging.  This is not because writing original music is more difficult, but because the principles of writing music are a little more intangible than those of learning to play the piano by ear.  Perhaps this is why there are many sites that teach how to play by ear, but very few about writing your own music.
tabThe writing process encompasses all the play-by-ear principles we have discussed, and ventures further into new territory.  Sometimes someone will ask me,  “How do you just sit down and write music?”  This is difficult to answer because it takes mind, heart, and skill; and it takes a lot of each.  But don’t be intimidated by that fact, because you have already become very familiar with the musical use of each.
tabIt does take a great deal of practice.  Keep in mind, however, that the practice required for learning to write music by heart is a much different kind of practice than is used for learning to read music.  It is also quite different than learning to play by ear – though learning by ear is, to some extent, prerequisite.
tabIf your intent in all of this is to learn to play music by heart, then you must recognize the role of learning to play by ear.  Remember that in training yourself to hear and play a note, you are training much more than just your ear.

Click here to see all of the Play by Ear, Write by Heart lessons

What Should I Call this Piece? A Giveaway!


What Should I Call this Piece?

Tab 2I wrote this piano piece for my second CD, which is coming out this summer, but I haven’t been able to come up with a name for it yet.

Tab 2I need your help! I need a good name for it.

Tab 2You can suggest as many names as you want, so any time you come up with one, simply write it in the comments.  Get family and friends to participate, because I want lots of names to choose from.  If it helps inspire any ideas, the CD itself will be named something about roots or origins – something along those lines.  You certainly don’t have to base your title on that theme, because there are plenty of other pieces following that theme, but you can if you want to.

Tab 2So here’s how the giveaway will work. There’s not really a deadline – so long as it’s before the CD release, but as soon as I see a name I really like (and I’m picky!), the contest will end, and I will announce the winner.  That means it could be two days or it could be two months – so the more you participate, the better chance you have of winning.  The winner gets a free copy of my Dayspring CD.  Or if they already have a copy of Dayspring, they can get a copy of the new CD once it’s released (exact date unknown).  Plus I’ll email you a free copy of this MP3, so you can show off the awesome tune you named 😀

Tab 2The chosen name will be the permanent title for the piece.

Tab 2Thanks for your help, you guys!  You’re AWESOME!

Jenniology – The Meaning Behind the Music


Jenniology – The Meaning Behind the Music


Tab 2 It took me awhile to decide what to study in college.  I had a lot of interests, and narrowing it down was difficult.  By the time it was time to sign up for school, I had it down to either music or genealogy.  I loved studying family history, and I thought it would be cool to go into a profession where I could help others with theirs.  But ultimately I knew I was more passionate about music.  Besides, I spent a lot more time practicing and thinking about music than I did genealogy, so I decided on music.
tabIt wasn’t until I had been going to college for a few years that I realized what I really wanted to have as my life study.  With only a few credits needed to get my Associates degree in music, I met Jenni.  She was the sweetest and prettiest girl I had ever met.  After a year of bumpy on and off dating, I asked her to marry me – the best choice I could have made.  It was then that I pledged myself to the study of Jenniology.
tabWe have been married since October 6, 2004, and I love her now more than EVER.  She is AMAZING!!!!  I am now a full time Jenniologist, and I am learning more every day.  Here are a few random Jenniology facts that I have learned already:

Tab 2Jenni loves candy – especially fruity candy, like Sprees and Bottlecaps.
Tab 2Jenni’s hair curls in a water fight.
Tab 2Jenni’s laugh makes any bad day great.
Tab 2Jenni has taught me that full-time motherhood is the best career possible.
Tab 2There’s nothing in the world like cuddling up to a sleepy Jenni.
Tab 2Eternal family is worth any price.  In fact, it’s worth every price.

Tab 2And she’s teaching me more all the time.  I love her, I love her, I love her!!!  Thanks, Jenni, for being who you are and letting me be your most dedicated student!

Read the meaning behind the music for more of Chas’s original pieces

Playing Piano by Ear – a Discussion


Playing Piano by Ear – a Discussion

Had a great discussion with Ria, Shelly, Jenni, and Jake about playing piano by ear.  Enjoy the podcast! (the portal to all her stuff)

Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 14


Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 14

Getting Better
As you find yourself getting a little more comfortable with learning to play a piece by ear, don’t be afraid to stray a little bit from your genre.  While you may not have desire to try other styles, every genre can teach you something that will help you improve your own style.  One potential problem with sticking too tightly to your favorite style is that you may become very repetitive and predictable in your music.  This is especially true as you begin to write your own music.  It is a common trap, and an easy rut to fall into.  Try learning a few different types of music.

I do not suggest by this that you need to master every style, or that you should be equally talented in every genre, but I am suggesting that you try out something new once in a while.  Musical styles are like seasonings.  While you don’t want seasonings to overpower foods and confuse the taste buds, a couple of sprinkles of different seasonings can give your food a unique and enhanced taste.  So it is with music.  Slightly jazzed new-age music is tasteful.  Slightly new-aged rock is actually very popular.  So is pop-tinted African music.  You don’t need to have all your music ‘seasoned’, but occasionally it helps.

Comparison is Poison

Another caution is that musicians absolutely MUST NOT fall into comparison.  It is absolute poison.  You must not compare your abilities with those of another.  Whether a person is better or worse than you in a talent, there is no room for any degree of competition in the world of a true artist.  That is not to say that we should not learn from others.  We should listen to as much music as possible and try to adopt the good things that we find, but we cannot think less of our own music because someone else’s music has more skill or more emotion.

It is true that another person has a better ability to learn to play, write music, and they may demonstrate remarkable skill.  Ought we to wonder about that?  What if some of today’s great musicians had gotten discouraged by comparing themselves to Beethoven or any other great artist?
There will always be someone better than you, and there will always be someone worse (even if you can’t seem to find one!).

It helps to consider the place of music in our lives.  Is one good piece of music truly better than another?  If so, by what standard are they measured?  If you measure by pure skill, you won’t notice the feeling of the music.  If you measure by the amount of effort put into an individual piece, then you won’t notice how much time and effort the musician put into developing his or her ability to write music.  If you measure by the rules of music theory, you won’t notice the development of new ideas and new styles in modern music.
Measuring how “good” a song is compared to another is fruitless, since every piece has a different meaning, a different motive, and a different feel.

It is the same with the musicians themselves.  Two musicians have such different experience and motivations that it simply doesn’t work to compare them.
Do not be discouraged or boastful by comparing your ability to another persons.  It will only lead you away from becoming better at what you do.

Bet You’ve Never Heard This One Before! Then again… neither have I



You know, I wish there was a better word for improvisation.  It’s so overused.  And there are so many kinds of improvisations.  I was playing around with my flute and recorded what I played.  It’s never been played before, and if it’s nothing special, it will probably never be played again!  Somehow the word improvisation sounds too musical jargon for that.  Jam session?  Maybe.  But that sounds like a group band…

Any ideas?  What term do you use for improvising a new melody?

Anyway, so here’s my flute improvi-jam session…

Un-edited Improv Session


Un-edited Improv Session

Okay, I’m putting myself on the line here again. I sat down, pushed record, and this is what I came up with.

Personally, I think the first part sounds nice… but a little two much like Irene Cara’s “What a Feeling.” Hmmm… It would definitely need some slight melody altering if I were to develop it into a full piece.

And on the second half I hit a couple funny notes.  But it is un-edited improv – so I shouldn’t be too hard on it.

What do you guys think?  Do the two parts have potential to be developed into full pieces?

– Chas

Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 13


Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 13


Play only when you want to

Another interesting thing about the emotional aspect of playing by ear deals with your mood.  Whether you notice it or not, your mood plays a huge part in your ability to hear, and especially to feel, what you’re playing.  My basic rule of thumb is this:  Never play the piano when you’re not in the mood to do it.  There’s a funny link between your emotions and your motivation when it comes to playing and writing music by ear.  If you are not in the mood to play, don’t do it.  For me, when I force myself against my will to play the piano by ear, it sours my motivation to return to it.  Afterward, I can often go weeks without feeling like playing the piano again.
If you’re also a music reader, you know that you can practice reading music all you want against your will.  The increasing of skill involved in training your eye-hand coordination has little tie to your motivation to be working on it.  The technical aspects of playing by ear still works this way, but with writing music by heart, it’s different.
Perhaps this sounds strange, since piano teachers encourage a set time and duration of practice hours per day.  The fact is, we are not talking about piano lessons.  You are learning to not only hear, but to feel the music.  If your feelings are fighting your will-power in this, let your feelings have their way.  This may sound odd, but in my experience, it works best that way.  This does not mean that you should only play the piano when you have a burning desire to do so.  It only means that if you have a burning desire NOT to play, don’t.  If you’re not sure whether you want to play right now or not, give it a try.  If it gets better as you go along, great!  But if you start feeling even less desire to play, just leave it alone and come back another time.

The Call of the Piano

You may think by this that there will be times that you never play the piano.  While this may happen on occasion, you will likely find that as you begin to develop more skill, your motivation will increase also.  You will find that often it is as if the piano itself is calling you.  When you hear that call, or in other words, when you feel that longing to play, go with it!  Play away.
Play for as long as you have the desire to play.  When you begin to get bored of it, put it away and come back later.  I would highly suggest taking at least a little time every day to practice.  You should choose for yourself how often and much time to spend at it, but consistency is one of the great keys to obtaining skill.  If you do so, you will be amazed at the speed of your progress, and the wonderful enjoyment you find in it.  It really does become addictive.  Where possible, take advantage of every time you feel the desire to play.
In light of that, I should mention that it has been in those moments where the piano has ‘called’ to me, that I have created my best musical pieces, and experienced the most fulfillment in my ability to create something new and beautiful.  There is much to be said of the first time you find yourself creating music from nothing.  It may not be masterful yet, but it will surely feel that way at first, because of the excitement of the moment.  The motivation that is born of this experience may be enough to hold you for a lifetime of music writing.

Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 12


Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 12

Silence is golden

One aspect of the feeling of a piece that is often overlooked is the beauty of silence.  Some musicians fear silence, thinking that it will give the impression that a mistake was made, or that the piece is finished.  What if, after all, the audience started clapping before the song was over!  The fact that is overlooked in this, however, is that silence is as much a part of music as sound.  One of the great definitions of music is “sound and silence organized in time.”  This being the case, we need not fear silence any more than we need fear hitting a key.
The secret to the proper use of silence is timing.  A carefully designed pause may have a much greater emotional effect than a continuation without break.  A tempo, slowed to near stop, followed by a grand silence can create a wonderful effect.
In listening, as well as in writing new pieces, we can include silences with confidence, not fearing what the audience might think.  Doing so will actually do more good than you might realize.

Softness is silver

Another thing to consider when trying to put emotion into a piece is dynamics.  By dynamics I mean how loud or how soft you play.  This is at least as important to understand, if not more so, than the proper use of silence.  A common misconception regarding dynamics is that the harder you play, the more effective the music is.  This is simply not so!  The key to dynamics is to reserve the loudness (or the softness, as the case may be) for the most important parts of the piece.  Think of it this way: the softer your beginning is, the more power you have to increase the loudness of the rest of the piece – and vice versa.
This must be done in moderation, however, since the introduction of a piece is the first impression.  You don’t want people’s first reaction to the piece to be “I can’t hear it.”  Therefore, the ideal is to find a good middle ground, with plenty of space on both sides of the decimal scale to work with.  And then, don’t be afraid to use the slack you have given yourself.  On a gentle part of the piece, you may find it more effective to drop the power to almost no sound at all.  Then when the need for more power comes, don’t hold back!  Pound those keys!  You’ll find that the contrast between loud and soft will strike incredible emotional chords in your self and your audience.
Therefore, as you listen for what a piece sounds like, and feels like, be sure to notice why it feels the way it does, and what gives those emotional charges their power.

The Forbidden Tritone…



Okay, I’m asking for your honest opinion here.  I’m working on my next CD, and one of the chunks of music I’m considering developing into a full piece is this one.  I’ve always liked playing around with crazy chord progressions, and for many years I have wanted to come up with something that defies all the laws of music theory and has a tritone chord progression.

The tritone is traditionally the worse, most dissonant interval (set of notes) of all.  Basically, if you play a C and then an F#, that’s a tritone.  I think music theory would scream at me for even attempting a piece that actually uses the tritone interval for a chord progression.  Maybe that’s why I was so determined to find a way – and this sample is filled with tritones.


I want to know your HONEST opinion.  Does it work?  Is it pushing things a little too far?

If you do like it, what kinds of emotions does it invoke?  If I do use it, it will need a name.  I never choose a name lightly.