Scripting my piano routine

June 7, 2009 – 4:52 pm

Adding a music category, since I seem to be doing a lot of those posts lately.

This week’s piano successes are in large part due to my realization that, due to years of conditioned habit, my brain turns off when I sit down at the keyboard. All I do is run through a script – usually a script that some dead classical composer had written, “hit these notes at these times” (and now stuff like “play this scale”). While I was in Raleigh and didn’t have a keyboard, I sat down with my music and a notebook in the evenings and thought through the piece, actually imagining my fingers running through it, what kinds of sounds that might make. (It’s difficult; I can’t hold all that in my head yet for anything but the simplest scales and arpeggios. Not even all the chords.)

Slowing that down made my actions dissolve into components, and I realized that I was taking and re-running these components in my head as a way to think about the piece, to learn it mentally – and to help that, I started writing them down – and before I knew it, I had a sequence of instructions that described what seemed like not-a-bad-practice-routine in pretty decent detail.

So when I got back to Boston, I took that script and sat down at the keyboard. Predictably, my brain turned off and started going into automaton mode. But this time, it was going through my script. And it worked! I’m going to keep scripting myself in advance of sitting down at the piano until I get comfortable enough to improvise how-to-practice on the fly.

Interesting things I tried this week:

  1. Wearing hearing aids while practicing. This is annoying, but I can at least tolerate it longer now. I go back and forth… it seems like some days my brain can process the additional weird sounds better than others. This makes me extremely curious about the cognitive basis behind retraining people to accept things like hearing aids and cochlear implants. I want to hear and understand cymbals darn it.
  2. Ear training. (This isn’t as new. I have walked down the street randomly humming tritones before.)
  3. Making my own play-along tracks for exercises, not just for songs. I’d press record, hit a sequence of notes, then play the recording back while trying to hit the thirds (or fifths or flat thirds or whatever) of those notes in time. My goal is to, when someone shouts “dominant 7 of Eb!” to immediately whack a Db without having to think or pause or count the intervals.
  4. Time-delay echoing tracks I’m hearing. Matt Ritter listens to strange Indian/techno/repetitive-in-general music, and one time when I was bored I started to play along with it, adding subsequent tracks to my hands as I figured them out – direct from ear to piano, which I haven’t done a lot of before. It was fun. I want to do it again.

Things I probably should have tried but didn’t and therefore will this week:

  1. Using a metronome. (Kevin pulled this one on me the other day when I was strutting my “and now I can play things!” results, and I was duly humbled by my inability to do so while keeping a steady beat.)

Watching videos of my lesson this week (I discovered that with my visual learning style, filming > audio recording) I was also struck by the difference between Kevin’s arms when he played and mine; his wrists slide levelly back and forth while mine flop up and down on each note. (And yes, I still throw my elbow out when passing my thumb.) I’ll have to figure out some things to try to give me feedback on those things this week. Maybe I’ll try playing with wrist braces on at some point just to see what happens, or belt my elbow to my ribs so I’m forced to bend from the hip joint instead of splaying out my elbow (and consequently, shoulder blade).

Temporary awkwardness leads to greater skill! (Well, that’s what I tell myself. And that even if awkwardness is over a decade in the making, it’s still a temporary thing and I’ll get over it because I’m working on it. Optimism and long-term visions tend to go well together…)

Cool Kevin Shortcut Of The Week: We’d previously talked about how a dominant 7th chord can be replaced by the diminished chord of the major third above it (so C7 can be replaced by Edim). So when going from a minor 7th to the dominant 7th up a fourth, you can instead go from the minor 7th to the diminished chord down a minor third (so D-7, instead of going to G7, goes to Bdim). Figuring out the intervals and fingerings for this made my head spin until Kevin pointed out that the inversion of the diminished chord was actually just moving the top 2 notes of your minor 7th chord down a half-step. My playing of Meditacao immediately improved upon the pointing-out of that particular isomorphism.

This is the kind of thing that works better in a video. Forthcoming. Edit: here you go.

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  1. 2 Responses to “Scripting my piano routine”

  2. Do you know about the Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss? I lurk on their mailing list (I would love to CART a music class someday), and they have a lot of interesting discussions, from a wide variety of viewpoints; people with early and late hearing loss, hearing aid and cochlear implant users, professional and amateur musicians, instrumentalists and vocalists. They may not have as hardcore technical information as you’re looking for, but there’s a lot of good anecdotal material there.

    http://www.aamhl.org

    By Fafner on Jun 7, 2009

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  2. Jun 8, 2009: [M]etabrain [E]ntry [L]og » Blog Archive » (partial) win!

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