Horrid Night

Last Saturday was a great day. We visited family, hung out with old friends, and generally had a great time all day. Even the sunset was beautiful. Then came bedtime.

Oh. My. Kids.

There were more blood-curdling screams than at the Nightmare on 13th haunted house. And why were they screaming? Heaven only knows. At bedtime, needs change constantly so as to provide a constant barrage of excuses to keep Mom and Dad’s attention. And if one request can’t be supplied, all Hades breaks loose, and before we know it, one side of the house is filled with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth (or gums, in Squeakers case), and the other with adults trying to drown out the sound with pillows over their ears. Beyond timeouts and lecturing, what’s a parent to do? After numerous door-smashing tantrums, heated lectures, and threats of lost privileges, the wailing only got worse. Jenni and I were both on the verge of an all-out breakdown. The idea of letting the kids wail themselves to sleep was the ultimate plan, but just try laying in bed and sleeping peacefully for three hours with a perpetual onslaught of screams coming from the other side of the house.

It was completely insane. In the end, one of them ended up sleeping on the couch (don’t ask me why that helped). Was it a good idea to let him have his way after a horrid tantrum? Maybe not, but by that time, we were on the verge of full mental breakdowns.

At church the next day, the brother teaching the lesson talked about something that had happened this last week that really caught my attention.

He said that the previous Monday had been one of the worst days in over a decade. One small thing after another, and though the entire day was just absolutely horrid, his one consolation was that at the end of the day he was able to kneel by his bed and thank the Lord that even though nothing had gone right that day, he’d been able to face each situation in righteousness – doing the right thing despite how horrid he felt.

I thought about the previous evening. It had been absolutely horrible. And though I felt like lashing the lot of them, I hadn’t. Though I felt like screaming at them, I didn’t. I was firm, but I didn’t do anything regrettable. As I realized that, all the stress and frustration from the night before just melted away. I had done the right thing. I knew I could at least say that much. Sometimes we can only do life a day at a time, and some days will be awful. But if we can say we acted in righteousness to the best of our knowledge, then we can be sure that the Lord is helping.

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

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

Arrangement Practice Series: Part 3

Practice Arrangement 3

This one has a lot of goofing up, but I think it also has one of the best possibilities so far.  Total ad-lib, or improv, or whatever you want to call it.

For an explanation of what this post is about, see http://music.willowrise.com/?p=242

How Gentle God’s Commands

How Gentle God’s Commands

I’ve always thought this was a beautiful hymn, so while sitting at the piano recently, I started playing with it.

Enjoy!

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.

Practice Arrangement Series: Part 2

Practice Arrangement Series: Part 2

Here we go again.  This is my second attempt at coming up with an arrangement for “I Stand All Amazed.”  For this particular song, if you’re following the series, you will hear every attempt I’ve made at coming up with the arrangement.

Because of this, there are a lot of problems and mistakes.  I want to share them, so you can see what it takes to come up with an arrangement.  Sometimes it goes better or faster than this, but not usually.

If you want to give input, please comment and let me know your thoughts!

Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 10

Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 10

A Common Method
Understanding the principle of the triad (1, 3, 5) will help you make sense of something else that I discovered in my learning that has opened my mind to know what to listen for, and how to write beautiful piano pieces.

If I were to write a piece of music that contained only the basic chord, hit simultaneously with a melody, it would sound simple and somewhat uninteresting.  But if I were to break it up into the notes of the chord played individually, it would soften the blow of a pounded chord, and feel more gentle.  In other words, if I were to play 1, and then 3, and then 5, rather than playing all three at the same time, it would sound a bit more interesting.  With this in mind, I also noticed that most people like to separate the notes even a bit more than that.  Remember, as long as you are using the notes 1, 3, and 5, it doesn’t matter which octave and which order they are played in.  The more common, and often more interesting way people play chords in their pieces, is to play 1, 5, higher 1, and 3.  Sometimes they will even just do 1, 5, and higher 1.  Other times they will do 1, 5, higher 1, 2, 3, or perhaps something like 1, 5, higher 3, 2, 1.  Whatever the combination, if you will keep in mind that this is a more common basis for many people’s music, you will find it easier to hear what they are doing.

Timing
I don’t want to discuss timing in too much detail, but it is a very important part of learning to play the piano, and I want to discuss just one aspect of it in order to help you in learning to write music, which we’ll discuss in coming podcasts.

Nearly all music is broken up into beats, or beat patterns.  Basically, you can count off beats as you listen to a piece.  1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4… and so on.  Most music has a pattern of either 1, 2, 3, 4, (called in music theory a 4/4 rhythm) or 1, 2, 3 (called a 3/4 beat).  Basically those are the two most common.  You can tell which pattern a piece of music is in by counting beats as you listen.  Whichever of these two beat patterns sounds like it fits better is probably the one that it is.

The reason I tell you this is so that you can know when to change chords.  On a 1, 2, 3 rhythm, the chords will usually change every 3 beats or every 6 beats, and on a 1, 2, 3, 4 rhythm, the chord will usually change after 4 or 8 beats.

So What?
In parts 6-9 of the Play by Ear, Write by Heart series, we have mostly discussed the triad.  I have done this for two reasons.  The first is to help you know what to listen for as you try to play a piece by ear.  If you can’t hear the lower notes of a piece well enough to pick them out and play them, you now know that you can experiment with the chords that fit the notes in the melody, and it likely won’t be too difficult to figure out what chord is being used.  This knowledge should save you some time and frustration in trying to find with your fingers what you’re hearing with your ears.

The second reason we have discussed so much about the triad is because in writing music, you will find that chords are the basis of all your music, and chords are made of triads.
Continue playing with chords using what you’ve learned about triads.  The piano is especially  conducive to playing with chords, because this triad pattern is so easy to recognize across the keyboard.   Play with chord progressions – meaning a structured set of chords, and try them in different orders.  Change some of their qualities from major to minor or vice versa, just to see what you come up with.  You’ll find as you do that it’s not difficult to come up with an interesting chord progression, and with an interesting chord progression, all you will need is a melody, and you will have your own original music.

Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 9

Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 9 – Chord Qualities

Chord Qualities
In the examples discussed in the last podcast, we used a 1 chord, which, to put it simply, sounds happy. We call this ‘happy’ chord a Major chord. We also briefly mentioned a 6 chord, which sounds more sad or heavy. This kind of chord is called a Minor chord. When I speak of the quality of a chord, I’m referring to whether it is a minor chord or a major chord. There are other kinds of chords besides Major and Minor, but we can discuss that another time.

You might notice that most of the seven chords we can choose from are either a major chord or a minor chord. Specifically, the 1 chord is major, the 2 chord is minor, the 3 chord is minor, the 4 chord is major, the 5 chord is major, and the 6 chord is minor. The 7 chord is the only one that is not either major or minor.

Play around with these chords. Try playing them with a simple melody, such as Old McDonald or Jingle Bells. Try making them sound normal and typical, and then try making them sound strange and mysterious. Try to keep chords consistent with the notes in the tune. It may take some practice to figure out which notes are the prominent ones, and which are just passing through to keep the melody interesting. Usually the 1st and last note in a phrase are prominent. Most of the notes played in the rhythmic beats of the phrase are also prominent. If this is sounding too complicated, just try playing around with a few tunes for a while. When you think you understand the concepts pretty well, continue on to the next section.
Tampering with Chord Qualities

While the natural state of the 1 chord is major, you actually have the power to change it to minor. If you can hear the difference between the sound of a major chord and a minor chord, you will understand to some extent why changing the quality of a chord may be useful. Music is all about feeling, and changing a major chord to a minor chord changes the feeling the music portrays.

To change a 1 chord to a minor chord, you must change the middle note of the chord. In a 1 chord, the notes are 1, 3, and 5. You must change the note 3. You must lower it. Instead of playing the 3, play the black note that is to the left of the 3 note. When you play the black note to the left of a key, you have made it flat. In music terminology, you are moving down a half-step.

The term ‘Step’ is used to describe the distance from one note to another. From note 1 to note 2 is one step. Moving from note 1 to the black note at it’s right is one half-step. The note that is one half-step above the 1 note is a sharp 1 note, or a 1 sharp. The black note that is one half-step lower than a 2 note is a flat 2 note, or a 2 flat. You’ll notice that a flat 2 and a sharp 1 are the same note. From the 3 note to the 4 note is actually a half-step also, since there is no black note between them.

Ok, back to our minor 1 chord. If you take the major 1 chord (1, 3, and 5), and lower the middle note of the chord (1, flat 3, and 5), you have turned it into a minor chord.

The same principle works in reverse. You can turn a minor chord into a major chord. The 6 chord is normally a minor chord. But if you take the middle note of the chord, and move it up one half-step, it will become major. In other words, a 6 chord is normally structured 6, higher 1, and 3. But if you raise the middle note (1, higher sharp 1, 3), you have turned it major.

This principle works on all 7 of the chords. In fact, even the 7 chord can be turned into a minor chord by doing 7, higher 2, and sharp 4, or major if you do 7, higher sharp 2, and sharp 4. Also, the black keys can be played as triads just as well as the white keys can. This is important to know, since most piano pieces you try to learn by ear are not in the key that we have been using.

The principles are the same in every key, and if you watch for them as you learn to play different pieces of music, you’ll find that they can be very useful.