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

The Makeshift Degree: Adlibing an Education without Going to School

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Okay, so obviously the most ideal way to get an education in most fields is to go to college, and for many jobs out, it is required.  But let’s face it, there are so many fields out there.  If you’re like me, you have so many interests that it is impossible for you to get a college education in all of your interests.
Also, many people are not in a position to go to college at the moment.
Here are a few ideas for getting an education outside of the school system:

Internet Sources:

The Internet has an endless supply of phenomenal information in thousands of fields.  You’ve just got to know where to look for it.  Here are a few sites I like – (maybe not Ph.D material, but interesting stuff nonetheless):

  1. http://google.com – good ol’ Google search.  You can learn just about anything with that… *
  2. http://www.youtube.com/edu – you know about Youtube.  Well, this is a branch of Youtube that specializes in good educational material.  Not just anyone can get stuff on here, so it’s a big step up from regular Youtube, and it’s a fun source of learning in all kinds of fields.
  3. http://www.ted.com/ – again, not a place to earn a degree, but if you want to get excited about learning, this is a fun place to go.  TED is a collection of fascinating lectures (yes, lectures CAN be fascinating!) that give an interesting perspective on various fields.
  4. http://www.openculture.com/2007/07/freeonlinecourses.html – if you prefer getting your information from reputable colleges, here’s a directory of podcasts that are done by colleges such as Stanford, Harvard, Yale, etc.  Just putter around the site to find the subject you’re looking for.

Books

  1. Check the Thrift Stores: As soon as a book becomes obsolete (by college standards that can mean the book has been published for a year and a half and now the photos in the book need to be reorganized), the thrift stores such as D.I. fill up with college textbooks.  After I paid nearly $100 for an astronomy book in college, I found a stack of twenty of them at D.I. the next semester for two bucks a piece.  Ugh… but that’s good for people who are wanting an education outside of school.
  2. Libraries:  They’re still around, believe it or not.  In this “Google any question” era that we live in, this is easy to forget.  Pick a topic, go to the library, and read all you can on the subject.
  3. School libraries: Most school libraries are open to the public.  You may not be able to check things out without a student card, but you can read what you want while you’re there, and if you take your digital camera, you can get instant copies of pages you want to read more about.

This is NOT a comprehensive list.  Fill us in!  What ways have you found for educating yourself on different topics?

* Clearly there is a lot of junk out there, and one of the great purposes of education is to train you to recognize credibility and bias.  You need to learn to check the sources on information.  Just because it sounds legit, or the information is worded in an educated manner doesn’t mean the content is of any real value.  The best lies are coated in great disguises.  So check your sources!

Read more entries with tips and ideas!

Musical 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 Musical 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

Make Your Own Didgeridoo! Here’s How to Play It…

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How to Make and Play the Didgeridoo

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Tab 2I know every person out there has had a lifelong burning desire to learn to play the Australian didgeridoo, so I’m going to teach you how to do it. The best part is, all you need is a pipe – mine’s PVC. Of course, I painted it to look all cool and stuff, but you can use a vacuum pipe or thick wrapping paper tube if you want.

Have fun!

– Chas

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

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

Playing Piano by Ear – a Discussion

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Playing Piano by Ear – a Discussion

Had a great discussion with Ria, Shelly, Jenni, and Jake about playing piano by ear.  Enjoy the podcast!

http://maria.willowrise.com

http://shelly.willowrise.com (the portal to all her stuff)

http://popcorn.willowrise.com

http://jake.willowrise.com