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#455912 - 12/17/01 11:25 AM u play the piano, but can you PLAY the piano??...
decibel101 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/28/01
Posts: 284
Loc: Manhattan
I had an interesting conversation with a good friend of mine, he's a professional musician and a well known respected bassist(sp?)

I started talking about how I'm taking lessons and all the theory that I've learned so far. Then I showed him a couple short pieces that I learned how to play by ear, just listening to them, but never took it that seriously.

He started telling me that he believes it is just as important for me to start not only practicing the theory I learn in lessons, but also start listening to music and then trying to play it just by listening to it.

So I'm trying to bring up a few questions here:

How do you know if you have perfect pitch?

Lot's of you talk about all these sonata's(sp?) and so forth that your working on which I am most envious of, but how many of you actually sit at the piano and try and play it by just listening to it, and trying to duplicate it?

Do any of you ever just sit at the piano and for lack of a better word, Jam with it? Just making up your own stuff as you go..
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#455913 - 12/18/01 07:57 PM Re: u play the piano, but can you PLAY the piano??...
aznlilies2001 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/05/01
Posts: 27
Loc: Dallas
You can know if you have perfect pitch if you get a friend to play a note on the piano, and you immediately know what it is.

If you can listen to a recording and are 'sure' what every note is, then you have perfect pitch. It's difficult to describe. You should just 'know' you're right.
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#455914 - 12/18/01 09:26 PM Re: u play the piano, but can you PLAY the piano??...
SethW Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/24/01
Posts: 106
In my opinion, trying to play a sonata by ear would be a big waste of time. Some sonatas can be quite complex, so playing the piece by ear could be a monumental task. And there really is not much point in trying to play it by ear when it would consume a lot of time that could have been served in actually learning the sonata from the score.

I can play from ear, however, and have played impromptu accompaniments (quite complex ones in a variety of styles) to a plethora of songs in church type services and such. And I improvise quite a bit, but I do not see much benefit from trying to play a particular piece by ear when you have the score.

However, there have been times when there was a particular classical piece I knew in my mind and wanted to play but did not have the score at the time. In these occasions I will sometimes play by ear--the minds ear, that is. It literally is my intrepretation since it rarely will be totally accurate. Most of these pieces are fairly simple. And the point of this being, if you really know music well and can play by ear well, you probably could play simple classical pieces by ear, as well. However, I do not see much value in trying to learn some large complex piece by ear.

Another thing, I do, now and then, play something that is composed on the spur of the moment. I was inspired by a friend I know to realy learn to play without any scores. He was one of the best pianist I knew when it came to inventing things on the spur of the moment. Anything you could name, if he knew the tune, he could play it. And he could accmpany any piece without music. He would rarely use the score when he would sometimes accompaning his choral groups.

I have learned quite a bit from him on this subject. And infact, I rarely use any kind of score when accompaning (other than a superficial look over it before hand). And I do not want this comment to come off as sounding boastful on my part, But why would I want to use the score when accompaning singers. Have of this type of music is so simple anyways. Anyways, thats my comments on this subject.

[ December 18, 2001: Message edited by: SethW ]

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#455915 - 12/18/01 11:32 PM Re: u play the piano, but can you PLAY the piano??...
PianoMuse Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/04/01
Posts: 902
Loc: Philly, PA
Seth, i know exactly what you are talking about! When i accompany, i usually only halfway learn the score...mainly the important pitches to the singer, and then just go along with it and make up the arppegios and such as i go along. i find it easier.
Not only that, butI think that learning to play " spur of the moment" will help in intrepreting written, complex peices. Once you know how to make up your own stuff right off the top of your mind, You have the ability to give a complex, written peice that " edge" that keeps it moving forward and the audience on the edge of their seats.
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#455916 - 12/19/01 12:56 AM Re: u play the piano, but can you PLAY the piano??...
Rodion Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/06/01
Posts: 296
Loc: Salt Lake City
ooooh i'm jealous!
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#455917 - 12/19/01 02:30 PM Re: u play the piano, but can you PLAY the piano??...
Vid Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/12/01
Posts: 888
Loc: Vancouver, B.C.
I agree with Seth, if one is trying to learn something like a Beethoven sonata or a Bach fugue you are going to have to use the score.

So how does one learn this play by ear/improvisation thing? I know some just take to it naturally but I'm classicaly trained and used to reading what I play. How did you start? What can someone with a classical background learn to play on the fly, or accompany simple melodies?
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#455918 - 12/19/01 03:29 PM Re: u play the piano, but can you PLAY the piano??...
decibel101 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/28/01
Posts: 284
Loc: Manhattan
I just kind of got upset that it kind of sounded like he was telling me that most people that are trained with just theory, and learning to read scores won't ever have the ability to improvise, or make something up on the fly, or back up a band without a score in front of them.

Myself. I plan on continuting with my theory lessons, as well as practicing what I learn in lessons, but trying to incorparate here and there figure a piece out by ear.

I'm not saying I'll be trying to dupe Beethoven Emperor concerto. But I will try and take on something challenging to train my ear.
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#455919 - 12/20/01 09:49 AM Re: u play the piano, but can you PLAY the piano??...
magnezium Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 722
Loc: Singapore
a while ago I met someone on napster who told me he learnt the Presto agiatato from Beethoven's C Sharp Minor Sonata, Op. 27 No. 2, entirely by ear...but of course... there's no way to verify it...

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#455920 - 12/20/01 03:20 PM Re: u play the piano, but can you PLAY the piano??...
PianoMuse Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/04/01
Posts: 902
Loc: Philly, PA
I was trained classically as well..i had a decent ear, and could play stuff by ear, but i wasn't fantastic at it. it was only when i started playing in church did i develop the ability to "improvise"... when we sang hymns, i would add on little things here and there, just getting the feel for it.
Then, we moved totally onto contemporary music. I would literally have a chord chart slapped in front of me. this is where i really learned to improv and play by ear...i would have to make it up and i learned to be able to transpose the piece into as many different keys as needed, and recognize the key they were playing in,all on the spot ( we never had the time to go over it before hand)..plus i was playing with guitarists ( which, is any of you pianists that have played with them well know what a PAIN that can be)where i would have to make up the chords. So basically,all that to say, i think it is just practice and experience that is the key. The more experience you get with just improving and playing by ear, ecspecially in front of people, the better you get at it. You don't have to be "born" with it.
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#455921 - 12/20/01 08:07 PM Re: u play the piano, but can you PLAY the piano??...
SethW Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/24/01
Posts: 106
 Quote:
Originally posted by Vid:
I agree with Seth, if one is trying to learn something like a Beethoven sonata or a Bach fugue you are going to have to use the score.

So how does one learn this play by ear/improvisation thing? I know some just take to it naturally but I'm classicaly trained and used to reading what I play. How did you start? What can someone with a classical background learn to play on the fly, or accompany simple melodies?[/b]
There are a number of things. For one, I was trained as both a jazz and classical pianist. That certainly helped. I also have a degree in music theory and more importantly, music composition. The very nature of this degree demands that a thorough knowledge of the technicalities and forms music be understood. This is probably the most important aspect in succesful impromptu playing. A thorough knowledge of music, both technical and of music forms.

I have also had the benefit of meeting some really excellent pianist in this regard. When accompaning, it is hard to explain this, but once in the caught in the rythym of the piece, the notes just seem to fly out of my hands without even thinking--of course, I know that this is not really true, years of training and study brought this about.

Talent, of course, figures in. A lot of pianist are more gifted than others.
I would recommend learning to improvise first. Fake books are also a really good way to learn this type of playing. It is a good way to experiment with various accompaniment patterns. Also, the melody and chords are provided so it is not neccesary to figure that part out. There are plenty of books on this topic.
This type of playing requires a totally different attitude when it comes to the approach used. It requires a lot of creativity and musical knowledge. So I also would recommend to experiment in different styles. Play some jazz or stride or some similar style. The thing is, classical music is a certain style. One of the thing about classical music is that the focus is usually on *intrepreting* an existing score. Improvising a classical score is usually not looked kindlyon. Jazz seems to invite a less serious attitude in how one plays it ... a more carefree attitude. Clasiical seems to have alot more serious approach -- hence the title of "serious" music.

By thee way, on a side note, while I would not say that learing the Presto agitato from the "Moonlight Sonata" is impossible. I would question the accuracy of something untill I could compare it with the actual thing. The reason being, I have met so many pianist who thought they could play this piece or that when infact they were way off. I could play a Presto piece and make it sound similar to this movement, but it will, chances are, still be quite different. It is just that to an untraiuned ear, all similar presto sounds might sound similar.

[ December 20, 2001: Message edited by: SethW ]

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#455922 - 12/21/01 11:29 PM Re: u play the piano, but can you PLAY the piano??...
PianoMuse Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/04/01
Posts: 902
Loc: Philly, PA
SethW..
Yes!I fully agree. jazz courses and jazz training in general are a HUGE help in this. I took a jazz course where we had to learn all the different jazz chords and how to use them in improvisation. "jazz theory" is a important backbone in improv and playing by ear.
_________________________
"Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music." ~Rachmaninoff

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#455923 - 12/23/01 06:50 AM Re: u play the piano, but can you PLAY the piano??...
T2 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/18/01
Posts: 341
 Quote:
Originally posted by SethW:
I have also had the benefit of meeting some really excellent pianist in this regard. When accompaning, it is hard to explain this, but once in the caught in the rythym of the piece, the notes just seem to fly out of my hands without even thinking--of course, I know that this is not really true, years of training and study brought this about. [/b]


There is not a very good vocabulary to describe this state of mind in the English language. A few Chinese and Japanese characters seem to be able to hit the nail on the head. But it sounds funny when translated into English. "The no-mind-ness of 'Great Origin'" or "Return to the 'Original Freedom'". But if you study Japanese calligraphy or fencing or Chinese tai chi--or jazz piano--they will expect you to shut down the conscious activities in your mind. And, whether they force you to paint with a thin parchment and thick brush that won't allow for unnatural strokes or strike you with a stick when you hesitate or impose strict rhythmic and harmonic expectations on you, they're asking you the same thing. To create spontaneously.

The severity of this discipline produces an art that lacks the orchestration of other work. But for people that can hear or see well it contains a power and excitement that escapaes explanation. You are witnessing the creative process itself.

In all such activities consciously directed effort is frowned upon. It doesn't flow. Musical improvisation--whether the vocabulary is baroque, 20th century, blues or jazz--cuts to the heart of the matter. You close down what is happening in your conscious mind so that you can listen to your soul. Whether, as Bill Evans said, "You get gone", or, as J.S. Bach said, you are "Praying to God", it is the same.

(Off the record: White belts, beginners, in a karate class would be nodding their heads and saying, "of course" to the previous discussion. Yet this conversation always seems difficult for the non-composing western musician to grasp. Why is that?)

 Quote:
Fake books are also a really good way to learn this type of playing. It is a good way to experiment with various accompaniment patterns. Also, the melody and chords are provided so it is not neccesary to figure that part out. [/b]


Fake books are essential for beginners and intermediates. But they can also build some bad habits. Many fake books are actually an arrangement of how the tune should be harmonized rather than the composer's original intent. Perhaps the most commonly used fake book, The Real Book, is full of notational and harmonic mistakes. The Japanese fake books, the people that own most of the songs, are better resources than the American ones.

Another bad habit is that students only learn a tune in the key it was written in the fake book. I suppose that is okay for weekend warriors, but transposition is also the first tactic used by good jazz players to clear the stage of non-essentials.

The other really tragic habit students get from fake books is that it makes their ears lazy. They never see beyond the changes written. This makes for dull, uninteresting playing and doesn't prepare them to play with good players, who use their ears. So, instead of listening to the bass player and, if the bass player can play, harmonizing their lines, students doggedly plough through Real Book changes--even when they're wrong. This tendency provokes sighs of despair of senior players and the dismissal of junior players. (Actually, I once saw a band leader physically throw a beginner, also a concert pianist, off the stage for this.)

Mostly competent jazz pianists know at least 10 different ways to re-harmonize a tune and know commonly used introductions and codas employed throughout the history of jazz piano. A really good player will be able to play all day on a song and never play the same changes twice and develop ideas with the same logic and consistency as a paper-and-pen composer.

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#455924 - 12/23/01 08:43 AM Re: u play the piano, but can you PLAY the piano??...
piqué Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/15/01
Posts: 5484
two things are getting quite mixed up here:
one is playing by ear.
the other is improvisation.

they may be both useful tools in creating a certain kind of music, but they are not the same thing at all.

i can play by ear and did it for decades before my current teacher proved to me that i didn't know how to read music. (now i'm learning how to read.) i have never improvised since i was a child and don't know the first thing about how to do it.

so, it is possible to have such a good ear that you fool yourself into believing you are reading the music, because you play it correctly, and, at the same time, have no knowledge of how to improvise.

but i can see how these two things would get easily confused: my grandfather never read a note of music, but he could play anything once you hummed him a few bars--and then he'd be off, making the rest of it up from there. he probably thought the two abilities were the same thing.
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#455925 - 12/23/01 11:00 AM Re: u play the piano, but can you PLAY the piano??...
T2 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/18/01
Posts: 341
 Quote:
Originally posted by pique:
two things are getting quite mixed up here:
one is playing by ear.
the other is improvisation.
[/b]


How do you develop each in a beginner?

Ear training. Develop the ear by doing transposition. That encourages a student not to memorize hand motions but to relate to the sounds. This can be as basic as transposing nursery rhymes. Bach inventions are fun to treat in this way. Another way to develop the ear is to play a musical phrase and have them repeat it back.

Follow that up with transcription, which among other things, forces them to listen carefully, analyze and internalize sounds. This can get really complex when you start transcribing symphonic music.

Improvisation is developed through simple call and response games. Simple ideas, two or three notes at first, sustain a conversation. It's like playing catch. Once the student gets the idea they can develop ideas on their own. Strategies include:
- Repeating a phrase
- Retaining the notes and change the rhythm
- Adding notes
- Subtracting notes
- Inverting or changing the order of the notes

Eventually, this gives way to the same logic of building larger forms as composing. But, with a beginner, if you get stuck, go listen to a gospel choir rehearse.

What I find is that people will go to incredible lengths to avoid playing by ear. They will either play by hand, memoring the motions, or construct mathematical models of a piece in their heads that, while useful for analysis and composition, produces consciously directed playing.

Still others who have developed proficiency at playing by sight/hand and want so much to play music that sounds pleasing that they refuse to become beginners again. They refuse to submit themselves to the discipline of developing their ears.

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#455926 - 12/23/01 11:52 AM Re: u play the piano, but can you PLAY the piano??...
SteveY Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/06/01
Posts: 1820
Loc: NJ
In music school, one of my instructors used to say that our goal should be to develop an "educated ear". He said that an educated ear: "Hears what it sees, and sees what it hears."

Years later, I still see the wisdom of my instructor, and I'm still in pursuit of the same goal.
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#455927 - 12/24/01 12:21 AM Re: u play the piano, but can you PLAY the piano??...
SethW Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/24/01
Posts: 106
First of all, improvisation can, at its most basic level, the expanding or spontaneous enxtension of any piece. Virtually all pianist will improvise somewhat. The improvisation coud simply be a few extra notes to liven a hymn up. There are some complex forms of improvisation, however. There can be, a proper or improper way to improvise.

Just to clarify my position on the matter, I never said that fake books or improvisation will make you play by ear. I was suggesting ways for a pianist that *primarily* sight-reads to get started in their journey. Playing by ear is all good and nice, but if the pianist cannot even improvise properly or pick out harmonies and accompaniments effectively, it's useless. For the pianists who have never really attempted anyting of this sort, I belive that learning to improvise and fake book playing are good ways to devolop this ability of playing by ear.

If you are going to accompany by ear, you will have to be able to transpose quickly and effectively and see all changes in harmony on the fly. Fake books are great for beginners because the harmonies are provided and it helps to develop this skill. It is true, however, that one should not become pigeonholed. That is why, I belive, a knowledge of music itself is neccesary so the student can use the knowledge to decide for themsleves.

Here is another thing I forgot to add. It is also true that as one builds experience, the obvious harmonies may not be the only option. I frequently experiment with alternative harmonies that well ... harmonize in various alternative ways. SO one should not be limited in any particular way.

The truth of the matter is that nothing will substitue for a good musical knowledge and, more importantly, lots of practice.

[ December 24, 2001: Message edited by: SethW ]

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#455928 - 12/24/01 03:00 AM Re: u play the piano, but can you PLAY the piano??...
T2 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/18/01
Posts: 341
 Quote:
Originally posted by SethW:
Just to clarify my position on the matter, I never said that fake books or improvisation will make you play by ear. I was suggesting ways for a pianist that *primarily* sight-reads to get started in their journey.
[/b]


Yes, and I added a few cautions primarily directed at people, like you, who are farther down the road. In general, I think you have spoken wisely and agree with your post.

Regarding ear training: I agree that fake books help you get access to a lot of tunes at a basic level. Indeed, playing tunes with just a base line and melody in all keys will help your ears and is considered as a standard practice procedure for jazz pianists. Or play a fugue in the keys if you want ear training but don't like jazz. Just take an easy piece first and build up over time.

Regarding re-harmonization: It's useful at many levels, including: Taking a fresh view of a piece of material, arriving at an original sound, working as an arranger for other people or as a preparation for composition.

One tangential point on re-harmonization: It can also serve as self-defense when another musician tries to make you look bad onstage. I've seen this particular phenominon quite often in the clash between rival schools, e.g., East Coast and West Coast jazz players or Americans and Europeans. I'll never forget the time at a seminar at the New England Conservatory when Chick Corea was put to shame by a softspoken young Frenchmen named Christian Jacob. Chick Corea had boasted that nobody in the room could play one of his new compositions. Christian could not only sightread it, he memorized it, took it apart, re-orchestrated it, spun it around and whooped Chick Corea over the head with it.

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