Help! Where Do I "Start"?

Posted by: jmarch

Help! Where Do I "Start"? - 11/08/12 12:44 PM

Hello, all!

I recently got myself a new Roland RD-700NX because it was time to upgrade to 'real' instrument and I do indeed love the thing. I'm not as used to fully-weighted keys as I'd like to be, so this is forcing me to learn them too which is great. And speaking of learning…. I have been wrestling with this question for a while and I've finally come to terms with the fact that I cannot answer it on my own, so I'm hoping perhaps some of you might be able to help out!

Basically, faced with a billion different (and vastly divergent) methods, I'm trying to figure out how best to increase my piano skills.

A little about my background. I'm 33 and have about 10 years of classical violin teaching (that ended about 15 years ago). I can read music just fine--so long as it's treble clef; notes on the bass clef take a little 'derivation time' for me.

I have no formal piano teaching. However, I have had exposure to a keyboarded instrument since I was probably 10 (started with a giant reed organ and then got a cheap Casio keyboard), but I took no lessons and didn't endeavor to play any 'real' music except things I would 'compose'. Throughout the years, my right hand would develop fairly well but my left would play octave roots or the root and the fifth of the chord.

Fast forward to 4 years ago. We had a need in our church to add a keyboard instrument. I figured, "hey, as long as I have chord names in front of me, I can hold chords under everything else being played." Well, I kind of took to it like a fish to water. It wasn't long before I was playing the melodies with full chords and fill-ins and flourishes. I do lots of improvisation and countermelodies and I routinely have to scale back what I'm doing to give room for other instruments--this is a good problem to have!

So I'm happy for my progress…except for one very large thing: all of the advancement has been in my right hand; my left hand still does octave roots or the root and the fifth of the chord. Now, to be fair, I do allow my left hand some movement now. For instance, if the song has 4 beats of a C chord, 4 beats of a G chord, and then back to C, I'll play 3 beats of G and one beat of D.. or I'll walk down the scale, G-F-E-D back to C. But either way--my left hand does very little and I just know that there is room for improvement!

And I want to improve! But I'm not sure what path to take because I'm primarily playing improvisation and chorded melody to support both hymns and contemporary songs in a church worship environment. I'm sure that a typical classical piano teacher or course study will tell me how to play Chopin eventually, but I'm not sure it'll help me play for my worship any better. But I'm also not sure that someone who could show me how to develop my skills for a church worship situation would be able to teach me how to play better overall--especially since I have never had any formal training for technique, fingering, etc. It's my hope that either 'path' would ultimately help me to play better in either situation, but I'm just not sure--and I'm not sure where to start! I see a lot of recommendations out there for this course or that course, but I'm not really a 'beginner' even though I lack some of the fundamental technique. I really do want to get better in 'both' areas if possible.

So if anyone out there can offer any guidance, I'd be much appreciated! Thanks in advance so much!
Posted by: Brian Lucas

Re: Help! Where Do I "Start"? - 11/08/12 01:32 PM

Congrats on the board! Love Roland gear!

Sounds to me like your left hand is doing fine. If you use the pedal, playing roots, or root/fifths is mainly what you'll do and can provide a good bass sound for the chord. You can add in root/fifth/nineth (whole step above root) for a little flavor, but what you are describing is pretty much what you play in a worship/non-classical setting. I often anchor the chord change by hitting the bottom root with my pinky strong and then add softer rhythmic "stabs" throughout with the octave on my thumb, occasionally adding the fifth or nineth, depending on the song. I'm guessing it's adding a little more rhythmic variety that will help you make it sound less simple.

I suppose you could also explore playing stride style, hit the root and then have your left hand come up and help your right play bigger chords. That's another option.
Posted by: PaperClip

Re: Help! Where Do I "Start"? - 11/09/12 09:12 AM

Heh, I have the same DP. smile I love the touch.

I think you're doing ok. No worries there. You could add some easy Bach's pieces if you want to progress the fingering of the left hand for example or try some etudes. You always learn from it.
Posted by: kayvee

Re: Help! Where Do I "Start"? - 11/09/12 10:30 PM

As mentioned above, I'd recommend picking up some easy classical pieces and just going for them.

In particular:
A series of Bach pieces (Anna Magdalene Notebook (10 or so pieces) --> Little Preludes (5-10 of them) --> Inventions (all of them)

A sonatina book (to include Clementi Op 36 and Kuhlau Op 20 and 55)

Then also incorporate a lot of technical work.

This will help build the independence in your hands, I think. Even if you never play classical music beyond this, it is the SKILL that you are developing: in this case, independence and balance. It can always apply to your worship music.

Another idea is to start going what you do with your right hand...in your left hand! It'll be slow and it'll feel awkward, but it'll work.
Posted by: jmarch

Re: Help! Where Do I "Start"? - 11/13/12 08:42 AM

Originally Posted By: kayvee
As mentioned above, I'd recommend picking up some easy classical pieces and just going for them.

In particular:
A series of Bach pieces (Anna Magdalene Notebook (10 or so pieces) --> Little Preludes (5-10 of them) --> Inventions (all of them)

A sonatina book (to include Clementi Op 36 and Kuhlau Op 20 and 55)

Then also incorporate a lot of technical work.

This will help build the independence in your hands, I think. Even if you never play classical music beyond this, it is the SKILL that you are developing: in this case, independence and balance. It can always apply to your worship music.

Another idea is to start going what you do with your right hand...in your left hand! It'll be slow and it'll feel awkward, but it'll work.


Thank you, thank you. Going to grab the notebook and start struggling through them. I'm very excited as to how this will help hand independence as well as technique that can carry over into other things. And I certainly don't mind playing classical either!

Thanks again for the suggestion!
Posted by: JamesPlaysPiano

Re: Help! Where Do I "Start"? - 11/14/12 09:51 PM

Hi, jmarch,

It sounds to me like you hit the nail on the head- you're not a beginner, even though you may be lacking certain fundamentals. I can see how this could be frustrating when it comes to trying to find a method that works for you. You might find that parts of one method are too easy, while parts of another method are too hard.

I think that what you really need is for someone who can play and teach improvisation-based praise and worship styles to "size you up," learning more specifics about exactly what you do and don't already know, and then put together a "plan" for what to do next. I'd be glad to do this for you, if you'd like to PM me or email me at james@betterpiano.com. (No, I'm not selling anything! But I enjoy helping when I can).

Oh, and you might check out this lesson I wrote up a while back. It technically keeps the left hand on roots and fifths, which I understand you already do- but if something like this isn't already in your vocabulary, I think you'd find it very useful. It doesn't mention chord symbols per se (it basically takes a diatonic approach instead), but you could adapt it to using symbols fairly easily. Here it is:

http://www.betterpiano.com/archives/the-pretty-pop-piano-thingy

Hope this helps. Good luck!

James
Posted by: jmarch

Re: Help! Where Do I "Start"? - 11/15/12 11:23 PM

Originally Posted By: JamesPlaysPiano
Hi, jmarch,

It sounds to me like you hit the nail on the head- you're not a beginner, even though you may be lacking certain fundamentals. I can see how this could be frustrating when it comes to trying to find a method that works for you. You might find that parts of one method are too easy, while parts of another method are too hard.

I think that what you really need is for someone who can play and teach improvisation-based praise and worship styles to "size you up," learning more specifics about exactly what you do and don't already know, and then put together a "plan" for what to do next. I'd be glad to do this for you, if you'd like to PM me or email me at james@betterpiano.com. (No, I'm not selling anything! But I enjoy helping when I can).

Oh, and you might check out this lesson I wrote up a while back. It technically keeps the left hand on roots and fifths, which I understand you already do- but if something like this isn't already in your vocabulary, I think you'd find it very useful. It doesn't mention chord symbols per se (it basically takes a diatonic approach instead), but you could adapt it to using symbols fairly easily. Here it is:

http://www.betterpiano.com/archives/the-pretty-pop-piano-thingy

Hope this helps. Good luck!

James





Sent you a PM! Thanks!
Posted by: JamesPlaysPiano

Re: Help! Where Do I "Start"? - 11/16/12 08:38 AM

Got it! Thanks!