My Musical Journey: The Message

The Message

When I was nine, my sister Ria had piano lessons. Being the little brother, I thought I should be able to have piano lessons, too. To me it looked like fun, and I wanted a turn. So mom signed me up.

A lady in our neighborhood, who was also in our ward, taught many kids piano lessons, and for only $3 a week, it was a pretty good way to go, though I didn’t find out until later what a generous teacher I had to charge such a small fee for those valuable lessons.

The lessons were fun, and I learned all the basic musical terms and skills, and obtained a very basic piano proficiency. By the time I had been taking lessons for a year, however, I was tired of practicing, and after a few weeks of dragging my feet, I stopped going to piano lessons.

Years went by, and I didn’t touch my piano books. They were a thing of the past, and any time I considered playing, I remembered how boring practice was, so from the time I stopped the lessons, I stopped playing the piano entirely.

As a young man of fourteen, I loved listening to music while drifting off to sleep. I would stick in a favorite cassette and let it play through to the end. However long it took me to fall asleep, I would always get completely wrapped up in the music. As I made a habit of this, I soon found that the mere act of turning on music and closing my eyes did something to me. It was as if the sounds were wrapping around me, filling me. I don’t know how to describe it, but that simple, quiet music had an overwhelming effect on my whole system.

It was at that time that I came to a realization of the power of music – just a few simple notes, played at just the right… well, everything! The tempo was perfect, the notes were perfect, played at the perfect volume at just the right moments. What was it about this mix of sounds that drew a person in so completely? Was it the flawless skill of the artist, or was it something independent of the musician? Did the music itself somehow convey the sense of completeness and power that I felt?

Much of the music I listened to was religious music, and the powerful feelings I felt while listening to that music were always accompanied by an intense spiritual high that made me want to be better, do more good, and reach out more to bless the lives of more people. But a lot of the music I listened to was simple New Age music, which at that time was sometimes called Easy Listening music.

One night, while listening to some of this gentle music, I felt something unique – or I heard something, but with my feelings rather than my ears. It was as if someone or something was sending a clear message through while my mind and heart were in such a susceptible state. The message was simply this: “You can give this gift to others.”

I lay motionless, still wrapped in the feelings and power of the music. The words had been clear. You can give this gift to others. What gift? Music? The ability to play music? The feelings that the music expressed? Though the message had been clear, I didn’t know for sure what it meant.

The more I thought about it, the more I felt that it was time to go beyond simply listening to and enjoying music. I needed to make music.

But how? I didn’t play any musical instruments, and my voice was nasally and boisterous. I would have to learn to play an instrument. A flute? A brass instrument? I didn’t have any instruments, and I didn’t have access to any instruments – except…

Yes. The piano. The family had a piano. I would would get out my old lesson books and start learning to play first thing after school the next day.

Wide as Eternity: The Meaning Behind the Music

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Wide as Eternity

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Moses 7:23-41

23 And after that Zion was taken up into heaven, Enoch beheld, and lo, all the nations of the earth were before him;

24 And there came generation upon generation; and Enoch was high and lifted up, even in the bosom of the Father, and of the Son of Man; and behold, the power of Satan was upon all the face of the earth.

25 And he saw angels descending out of heaven; and he heard a loud voice saying: Continue reading Wide as Eternity: The Meaning Behind the Music

If You’re Going to Whistle, at Least Put Your Whole Heart and Soul Into It!

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Heart and Whi-soul

My grandma loved to whistle.  She whistled all the time.  In fact she loved doing it so much that she would tape-record herself whistling.  She was a true whistler.  As a result, I have inherited… tapes of her whistling.  But I also inherited her love for whistling.  Here’s a recording of me whistling.

Her advantage?  She was FAR more talented at whistling.

My advantage?  A MacBook Pro with Garage-Band…

Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 11

Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 11

The Heart: the Basis of the Musical Ear

I think there is a reason that the word “ear” is encompassed in the word “heart”. When it comes to music, the heart is the key to success, and to ignore the heart is to take the spirit from the body of the music.

When I speak of the heart, I am referring to the emotions and feeling. If a piece of music is full of spectacular technique and skill, but lacks emotion, it is essentially dead. The key to learning to play a piece of music by ear is to capture the feeling of it. It has been said that whatever a musician is feeling as they play, that same emotion will be felt by all who are listening to to the piece. This being the case, in order to hear and reproduce a piece of music, it is essential that you duplicate not only the notes, but the feeling of the music.

Not only is emotion essential to playing the music right, but emotion is also key to finding the right notes. As you learn a piece, and start the cycle of playing, rewinding, and replaying a CD, notice how the music, and even the individual chords make you feel. Note the effect the chord has on you. Then, as you stop the CD and try to duplicate what you hear, continue to notice your feelings. Does the sound coming from your hands give you the same emotional response as the music on the CD, or does it change your feelings? If it changes your feelings, even slightly, then something is missing, and you’ve got to try again.

Sometimes your ears can deceive you a bit. You may have the correct right hand, but the left hand is playing the wrong chord. Perhaps your mistake still sounds good, which may give your ears the impression that you have it right. But what do your emotions say? After playing the chord on the CD, and then trying to duplicate it with your hands, if you feel even slightly different, your heart is telling you that something’s not right.

Perhaps the lowest left hand note is right, and the right hand notes are right, but are the other left hand notes correct? If your ears are hearing a 1 chord (1, 3, and 5), but your heart is hearing a 4 chord (4, 6, higher 1), then perhaps the real chord is a variation of a 4 chord, such as 1, 4, and 6. This is a common mistake, since when you play the 1 chord, it doesn’t feel right, but when you play the 4 chord, it still doesn’t sound quite right!

Strange, isn’t it, to think that your ears and your heart can argue about what you are hearing? In such a case, both may be right about what they hear, but until both are satisfied, you still don’t quite have it. Ideally, it is best to get the ear and the heart in agreement. If, however, you just can’t seem to come to an agreement, always follow the heart. It’s better to feel right but sound wrong than to sound right but feel wrong.

Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 6

The Triad

Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 6

Though it is not my intent to get deep into theory, there are some music theory principles that are very helpful to understand when trying to learn to play by ear or write your own music.  One of these principles is the concept of the triad.

By the time I took a theory class, I understood the principle of the triad, because I’d used it so much in hearing and writing music, but it was in music theory that I learned the term.  I will discuss it in a little bit different aspect than you would find in a theory class.  We already spoke a little bit about a chord, which, as discussed, is group of notes played at the same time.  The triad is the basic principle behind which notes make a chord, and why those are the notes chosen.

One thing that might help you see how a triad works is to do the following: label the notes on your piano 1 through 7, with number 1 on ‘C’.  You can do it mentally, or you can get pieces of tape and write it on them.  Put 1 on C, 2 on D, and up the piano so that the number 7 is on B.

For those who don’t know the letter system on the piano, just find one of the sets of 2 black keys (as apposed to the set of 3 black keys), and start with the first key to the left of the 2 black keys.  That is number 1.  Then going left to right on the white keys, number the keys 1 to 7.  Then repeat the sequence with the next 7 keys.  Each group of seven is called an octave.  In music lettering, these keys are C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and the sequence repeats the same way.

Now let’s talk about the triad.  Any group of 3 notes is a triad.  For our purposes, we will stick primarily with a triad where there is a space between each note, such as the numbers 1, 3, and 5.  This is a very basic and fundamental triad.  Also, 2, 4, and 6, are another triad, and 3, 5, and 7 are another.

The 1, 3, 5, triad in our example is a C Major chord.  It is difficult to explain this without terms, so let’s call this the 1 chord:  Notes 1, 3, and 5.

Remember that this 1 through 7 sequence repeats throughout the piano keyboard.  Everywhere on the keyboard that is marked 1, 3, or 5, is part of the C Major chord.  There is one note between 1 and 3, one note between 3 and 5, and two notes between 5 and the next higher 1.
When you reach a higher 1, this is a new octave, but it is still the same note as the original 1.

There are many octaves on the piano keyboard, but each are playing the same note on a higher or lower level.  I can hit a 3 on a piano, and then hit a 3 that is four octaves higher, and I am still in the same chord.  The 1 chord.  As long as I am hitting a 1 or a 3 or a 5, no matter what octave I am on, I am still playing part of the same chord.

Probably at this point you newbie’s are about to give up on this podcast because it sounds so complicated.  Bear with me.  These things are not essential to know in order to learn by ear, but they really help.  It was at least a year or so before I caught onto this concept, but you can learn it in ten minutes.
While you newbie’s are thinking of whether or not you want to go through with this, you old-timer experts may be getting bored.  You’ve likely long-since learned this.  I know.  You are welcome to skip to the next chapter if you feel so inclined.  Otherwise you are welcome to bear with me.  There just might be some important things for you to gain from this also.
Now that we have established the 1 chord, can you guess what the 2 chord would be?  Notes 2, 4, and 6.  Try these notes, in any octave, notes 2, 4, and 6, and you will be playing parts of the 2 chord.

The same remains with the 3 chord: 3, 5, and 7.

I hope it’s not too confusing if I use the term “2 chord” to mean the notes 2, 4, and 6, while referring to the “2 note” as being simply 2.  I will also try to be consistent with how I speak of 2 chord and 2 note, so it doesn’t get too confusing.
By this same concept, when you play the notes 5, 7, and 2 (higher 2) you are playing the 5 chord:

So it is with 6, 1, and 3.  This is the 6 chord.
No matter which octave you play in, you are still in the same chord.  The same applies with all the chords up through 7.  In all honesty, there are a LOT more chords than that, but don’t worry about others right now.

You may notice, as you begin to learn a piece of music by ear, that most of the time, when two notes are hitting at the same time, they are notes that are in the same chord.  While chords may change every time you hit a new group of keys, usually the keys that are hit at the same time will be in the same chord.

When you get into this stuff deeper, you’ll find chords with four or five notes, usually in the same pattern as the three in an ordinary chord (i.e. 1, 3, 5, 7, or perhaps 1, 3, 5, 7, 2, etc.), but don’t worry about that right now.

Take some time to play with different chords.  Try playing with the 3 notes in the chord all at once or one after another or in any other varying pattern.  Just play the notes in a chord all over the piano, in all different octaves.  Try a 1 chord, then a 4 chord, the some other chord.  Have fun with it, and just try to get the feel of playing chords according to this triad pattern.  We’ll talk more about chords and triads in the next podcast, so just have fun with it for now.

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.

Play by Ear, Write by Heart – part 2

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Introduction Continued…

When it comes to teaching people to play the piano, I have no teaching experience other than little bits of advice I’ve given to a few who have desired to learn to play by ear. I have only had a small taste of traditional piano lessons (probably less experience than most of the piano players you know). But I have great faith in the ordinary person to become a great musician. I believe that anyone – anyone who truly desires it, can become a great piano player. I have seen ordinary people who consider themselves completely “un-musically inclined” become so proficient at the piano that people ask them when they are going to publish a CD. People are surprised to hear that they have only been playing for a year or two.

Over the years, I have tried to notice things that could help me introduce others to the field, and to hopefully help them to know what to look for, so that they will not have to take as long as I did to learn what I have learned. As a matter of fact, it has taken me longer to learn to play by ear than it does for most people. I have been learning to play by ear for about 13 years, and there are a few things that, if I had known them earlier, would have gotten me further faster.

Let me also warn you up front that this is not a music theory discussion. It is not a method to replace piano lessons. If you truly desire to become a proficient piano player, you’ll need piano lessons. I have neither the expertise nor the desire to teach you how to read music. That is not my intent. If you are striving to become a well-trained piano player, this method is discussed as a supplement to your lessons, not a replacement. I have studied a lot of music theory, and I may use some few of its concepts, but I’ll probably use very little of the proper terminology, since that is not my purpose. Besides, musical terms tend to scare some people away. Some people are annoyed by musical jargon. Sometimes I am one of those people, even though I usually understand it. For the sake of the intent of this discussion, I’ll only use enough theory to assist in explaining a principle. But the bulk of the material in this book will be independent of traditional music theory.

I have structured this discussion to teach both those who have never even seen the face of a keyboard, and those who have had 20 years of piano lessons. Whether your intent is to become a great musician, or just to have a fun, new hobby, this discussion is for anyone who has ever had the desire, or just the mere curiosity, to learn to play music by ear. I also hope to go into as much depth as possible about learning to write your own music.