General whatnots and things:
I was raised in an Italian-American household, so my youth was soaked in opera and classical music. Subsequent to entering young teen-hood, my youth became equally soaked in stadium rock. I consider all of the aforementioned genres of music to be personal vernaculars and place them on an equal footing in terms of merit.
My favorite music is by Haendel, Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Jeff Lynne, and Steve Perry. Yes, I like unsnobby, beautiful, melodically rich, and unrepentantly sincere music. If I like it, it’s a guarantee that a klatsch of art-music devotees having a roundtable over lattes and clove cigarettes at the local coffeehouse rolled their eyes at it.
I play piano and have spent some time on viola, but had to press the “pause” button on viola lessons when composing reared its entirely unanticipated head.
I started piano when I was 10 after about four to five years of relentless nagging of my parents on my part. Coming from somewhat financially straitened circumstances meant that until my family could chase down a freebie, it wasn’t going to happen. I’m thankful that I did have the 8 years of fairly rigorous lessons that I got, and thanks to studying piano plus being Somewhat Neurologically Peculiar, I absorbed a whole lot of theory anyway.
I have never attended a music college in my life, or studied music in an academic setting. I have BS degrees in physics and astronomy, and an MS in physics with a concentration on high-energy/particle physics. Metaphorically speaking, I seem to have been born without a right brain, causing my left brain to subsequently inflate and subdivide itself into a left and right brain. (Please note that I preceded that statement with the words “metaphorically speaking.”) While I can fairly be called a childhood math prodigy, I was never a childhood music prodigy. My childhood piano teacher is someone I’m almost positive you’ve never heard of.
I enjoy languages, orthographies, mathematics, handcrafts, really good food, and music. And my kitty, of course. And hockey, which only recently has been showing up on the blog despite a lifelong, slightly dysfunctional love/hate-well-maybe-not-hate-that’s-a-little-strong-let’s-call-it-frustration relationship. I’ll try to keep it to a dull roar during the season.
General advice for studying music — or anything else really:
- There are no shortcuts. Stop wasting time looking for them and get to work.
- Play now, pay now. There is no later.
- Small changes consistently made add up. Those changes can be improvements if you want them to be.
- Don’t wait until you’re at your instrument before you expect inspiration to arrive. You need to look for it 24/7, which means that it may strike while you’re stuck in traffic. Oh, well. Inspiration isn’t accommodating. It comes when it comes, and if you expect it only to show up of its own accord when it’s convenient for you, it won’t come at all. Get used to it.
Advice on improvisation and playing by ear:
- Get the sheet music off the desk.
- Take a popular song melody you like and work it out.
- Listen to it a few dozen times until a left hand suggests itself.
- If you stumble upon something good, write it down or record it.
- Eventually, you will have started to wander around and improv. Now, pick a key and start noodling.
- Rinse and repeat for a couple weeks/months/years. See #5.
All of this was made easier for me with the acquisition of a digital piano with headphones, where my noodling could be kept to myself. If you, like me, are classically trained and you just can’t lose that old puke reflex over making “mistakes,” I strongly recommend that you get an instrument with headphones if at all possible. (Some don’t come with that option. If you’re a wind player, you’re kind of stuck.) You will be surprised at how much looser and freer you will feel once you don’t feel like someone’s listening.
And honestly, I left out Step Zero:
0) Hum to yourself constantly, even just in your own mind.
I can be contacted at firexandxair at gmail dot com.