Song of Middle C

song-of-middle-ctalltabIf you have ever performed in a talent show, concert, or recital, you know how much stress it can be.  And if it’s scary for adults, imagine how terribly frightening it must be for a child.  They take piano lessons, practice their little hearts out, and then do what few adults will agree to do – perform.
talltabThat’s the subject of Alison McGhee’s picture book, Song of Middle C, illustrated by Scott Menchin, and published by Candlewick Press.  It is about a little girl preparing for her first piano recital.  The poor kid works her heart out committing the music to memory, and prepares in every way she can imagine, including bowing in front of the mirror and wearing her lucky underwear!
talltabThen when she gets up to play, she freezes – the whole piece erased from her mind.  She sweats, she worries, and she nearly panics.
talltabPerhaps the story would have come to a rough ending if the girl didn’t have such a fantastic piano teacher, who taught her to not be concerned about length of time, to recognize the value of middle C, and to use her imagination.  With these tools, the little girl finds that the music itself can carry her through – even if the music she plays isn’t the music she planned!

talltabOne of the unique things about this book is that it goes into the more enjoyable parts of music.  Rather than simply following the typical pattern of ‘learn your sheet music and then play it right,’ Alison McGhee illustrates the value and power of improvisation, and how music itself can be the guide in deciding how to play and what to play.  This is a great lesson to learn – and the earlier a person can learn it the better, because when your memory fails you on stage, your emotions are still in tact (though seared slightly!), and can guide you to still make beautiful music.  Music is a thing of the heart, and Song of Middle C demonstrates that well.
talltabSong of Middle C is a fun read, and a must have for parents with young children in piano lessons.  It will help them prepare for their own recital, and teach them the power of music itself when guided by the imagination.

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talltabEven Lunch Bucket, who is only three years old, loves the book, and insisted after our first reading of it that she needs her own pair of lucky pannies!

Learn more about Song of Middle C at http://candlewick.com/cat.asp?browse=Title&mode=book&isbn=0763630136&pix=n

My First Music Video! Yay!

I’ve finally completed my first music video.  I guess it’s a little more like a music slideshow, but the piano piece is from the CD I’m planning on releasing at the end of July (If all goes well – and so far so good!) and it’s called, The Fourth Day, referring to the fourth day of creation.  That also means that this is the first time the piece has been published anywhere.  What do you think?

Copyright ©2009 Chas Hathaway, Willowrise LLC

And in case that version doesn’t work (some people’s computers don’t play it right), here’s a link to it on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/user/chashathaway

If that doesn’t work, you can also watch it at Exposureroom.com

By the way, the giveaway where you help me come up with the name of my piano piece is still active!  Just comment with a name suggestion for the piece.  If one of the names you suggest is the one I decide on, then you get a free copy of my Dayspring CD.  It really is as simple as that, so just comment on that post with as many name suggestions as you want.  You can’t lose!

Minute Memories: My Grandpa

talltabI don’t know if playing music by ear is a gift that can be inherited, but if it is, I can’t take full credit for what I have learned.  I have a long ancestral line of musicians, including trumpeters, harmonica players, singers, band leaders, songwriters, whistlers, and of course, piano players.
talltabMy Grandpa Hathaway played the piano by ear.  I never asked him what kind of technique he used to learn what he played, but I have vivid memories of watching his fingers dance across the keys as the sounds of Beautiful Dreamer and Memories filled my grandparents’ living room.  Their house always had a classic, well-cared for style, with curio-cabinets and intricate mementos of their lives and era.  The piano was situated in the tightest corner of their beautiful living room, with only enough room for the piano and a player, but the music carried throughout the whole house.
talltabNot only did Grandpa teach himself to play that piano, he essentially put the thing together himself – at least after taking it completely apart.  When he and Grandma bought it, they wanted to put it in the downstairs living room, but their stairway was too narrow for a full-size piano.  So Grandpa disassembled the whole thing – with every key removed, and took it down into the living room in pieces.
talltabGrandma hassled him that he would never be able to get the thing back together, but he did, and it is still there today.  I suppose that piano will stay with the house forever.
talltabWe had a piano in our living room, too, though we didn’t have to take it apart to get it there.  I was fourteen when I decided I was going to really learn to play the piano, and that year Grandma and Grandpa Hathaway came for Thanksgiving Dinner.
talltabDuring those contented hours between the feast and the serving of pie, I found myself Continue reading Minute Memories: My Grandpa

Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 17

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Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 17

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The Choice

Tab 2Now, just because you recognize what your ear is trying to tell you doesn’t mean you have to follow that advice.  Play your first chord, and then listen for your metal ear’s advice.  When you know what it wants you to play, you are then left with a choice:  you can follow it or reject it.

Tab 2If you reject the chord given to you by your mental ear unintentionally too often, you will likely dull your capacity to find the chord that your mind suggests.  This will make it difficult to write by heart, because rather than writing music by heart, you will be left to take guesses and choose chords either randomly or by knowledge alone, neither of which are very effective.
Tab 2The best way to prevent this is to pay close attention.  If you play a chord and it doesn’t match the note or chord suggested by your mental ear, stop and try another chord.  If you find that you’ve already forgotten what that chord was supposed to sound like, start over with the first chord again.  By paying careful attention to the notes or chord that your mental ear suggests, you will find that your metal ear has a great memory, as well as good taste in music!
Tab 2If you are given a note by your mental ear, you can choose to reject it.  It’s okay to use a different chord than what your mental ear suggests, as long as you are doing it knowingly and intentionally.  Rejecting a chord intentionally will, to some extent, re-configure your mental ear to listen for that different chord or note.  In other words, any time you begin writing a piece of music for the first time, as you approach the time to play a new chord, your mind will tell you what chord to play.  If you choose those chords as your mind tells you, you will be able to write your piece quite easily.  If you choose a different chord, you may be able to find a chord that you like even better.  The bottom line is, you must have your mind, heart, and fingers trained to be able to play a chord that you hear (audibly or mentally) so that you can choose whether or not to use those chords or notes.
Tab 2The great thing about choosing a different chord than your mental ear suggests is that in finding new chord progressions, you create for yourself a whole new library of possibilities for your mental ear to draw from.  The more you try new things and learn to work with new ideas, the more you will have to build with.  This becomes a remarkable adventure.  You will find that most any two chords can work together if you take time to discover when and where and how to play them.  With your mental ear and your creativity as your guide, there are very few limitations to your potential.

Read more about playing piano by ear and writing your own original music

Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 16

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Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 16

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The Mental Ear

Tab 2Inside your mind, there is something I call a mental ear.  It is the part of the mind that processes and predicts music.  When you hear your favorite song on the radio, your mental ear tells you what to expect as your listening.  You have heard the song before, and although you probably don’t consciously recognize the chord patterns that are used, your mental ear recognizes them very well.  So if you went to a concert where the musician was playing your favorite song, and a wrong chord was played, you would know immediately that something was wrong.  Your mental ear would alert you of the mishap immediately.  You may not instantly recognize what it was that went wrong, but you would hear and feel a difference.

Tab 2Writing music uses the same principle.  Your mental ear is so used to hearing  and predicting music that it becomes your primary source for coming up with chord progressions and melody ideas.

Tab 2That ‘ear’ has collected so much data over the course of your lifetime, and is so full of chord progressions, that when you sit down at a piano to create a new piece of music, and you play a chord or melody for the first time, your mental ear will tell you what the next chord should be.  It may take a little while to fully recognize what your metal ear is trying to tell you, but you must practice in order to become familiar with it’s messages.

Tab 2In learning to hear your mental ear, it is helpful to remember how you have been already using it thus far.  Turn on the radio to a familiar song.  While one chord is being played, listen to the part of your brain that tells you what the next chord will be.  I’m not speaking of the chord names, but of the way the chord sounds and feels.  What is the feeling that you get when the music changes one this chord to the next?  You know what’s coming, you know how you’ll probably feel when you hear it.  You can thank your mental ear for that.

Tab 2Now, transfer that recognition to your own music writing.  Play a chord – play it in what ever style you would like, but then pause for a moment.  What does your mental ear tell you the next chord should sound and feel like?  Find the chord.  You may have to pluck around a bit before you find it.  If you lose your train of feeling in your attempts, start over.  Keep doing this until you find the chord that your mental ear is trying to encourage.  Once you find it, play it a few times with the original chord.  Then, play the that far again but stop and try to feel what your mental ear is trying to tell you the next chord should be.

Tab 2This is the basic procedure for writing music by heart.  It is important to recognize what your mental ear is trying to tell you to play.  Your ear and your feelings must be your guide.

Read more of the series, Play by Ear, Write by Heart

Name that Tune!

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Arrangement

I’ve always loved this song, and I’ve been playing my own simple arrangement of it for years.  Now I decided to record it, and spiced it up a touch.

So just for fun, name that tune!  Let’s see who get’s it first – just leave a comment and tell us the answer if you know what it is.  Winner gets a YAY!

Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 15

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Write by Heart

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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

Humility, Joy, and Gladness

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In Humility, Joy, and Gladness

I was sitting in church last week, singing the hymn, “In Humility, Our Savior,” when I began to notice the chord progression on the song.  To myself, I quietly began to sing the Hymn, “On This Day of Joy and Gladness,” and to my surprise, they seemed to fit.

So later I decided to try putting them together, and this is what I came up with.  Interesting, how similar the two are!

– Chas

Click here to see more posts of my hymn arrangements

What Should I Call this Piece? A Giveaway!

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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

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Jenniology – The Meaning Behind the Music

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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