Posts that are music-ish

Computer keyboarding with auditory awareness


Nagle reminded me that there were some things I haven’t shared yet (also, and note the new “kinesthetic” category for this blog; my past two somatic awareness posts are also on there now.)

Keyboard awareness has been key for me (pun intended). This is with both senses of the word “keyboard” – computer and piano. Add that to the “and my elbow is double-jointed” thing, anorexia and you get “hello, order risk factors for messing up your arms early in life!” I’m stunned I lasted this long, really. Anyway.

There’s a great contrast between the piano, where I’m acutely aware of what I’m doing because it’s my “job” to listen for this fine-tuned feedback that depends on what my muscles do (it’s not perfect, but it’s easy to adjust when I’m reading books because I can immediately go “yeah, that sounds good!”) and the computer, where my job is almost to be not aware of how I’m sitting… I feel like I need to be able to be unaware of the physicality of my input methods in order to get the mental work onto my screen. So I’m continuously trying to transfer knowledge back and forth between both.

I’m also becoming more aware of what my level of mental and physical awareness is when I am…

  1. at the computer
  2. at the piano, sightreading
  3. at the piano, playing something I know, having a good time, playing musically and listening…

1 and 2 are both very cerebral, and somatic awareness is almost nil. 3 has a ton of awareness in both directions. Based on this, one breakthrough was from trying to find the 4th counterpart – computer with awareness.  I tried to type while listening to my computer keyboard, playing it melodically with a rhythm and body motion as if it were a piano piece – and different kinds of piano pieces (Prokofiev != Bach in terms of everything, including physical movement, etc). Instead of musical phrases, I leaned into and paced my typing to sentence phrases. This didn’t disrupt my mental flow as much and gave me some access to my physical one, but there’s a ways to go before using my computer can be more than a just-my-brain activity.

Yes, it did strike me that a “you’re typing too hard” indicator might be a useful bit of technology to exist. Since the computer doesn’t know how hard you’re striking keyboard keys, it’d have to be on the keyboard itself, or on a listener near the keyboard that can

It still feels awkward, though – it’s hard to determine when my physical awkwardness comes from inexperience doing the right thing, or simply doing the wrong thing. I wonder if I’ll get a gauge for that in time.


Tatum technique


When I was trying to get myself used to (what I would previously have considered) “dissonant harmonies, advice ” I was listening to a lot of Thelonious Monk. Now that I’m working on the fluidity of my scales and arpeggios, check I’m listening to Art Tatum. Who is mildly terrifying to hear in the “Great Master Has Just Displaced Ten Thousand Enemies Without Breaking Into Sweat” way. Incredible technical runs that sweep complexity across the keyboard, executed with clarity and evenness and a calm, breezily effortless mezzoforte.

He makes it sound easy. He makes it look easy – of course your hands just kind of land like that when you casually swing your elbow out, traipsing over flat thirteenths on the way. And then you think about what you would have to do to play the same, and break out in a cold sweat. To compare, here’s Tatum playing a rendition of Dvorak’s Humoresque with utter calm, and a pretty darn good guy playing the same.

In the meantime, I’m laboriously picking out fingerings for each scale and chord and piece I play. There’s an interesting vector notation system I may try, but I really think the thing I need most is just practice.


Bach. Is kind of nuts.


Via Fafner’s blog. As my hands continue to improve, injection I’m going back through emails and comments and having fun seeing what I’ve missed.

I never thought of Bach as a pedagogical designer before – it was always “just music” to me, and it wasn’t until about 3 weeks ago while browsing through a music shop and reading the preface of a book of his 2 and 3 part inventions that I learned he actually designed some of his pieces to teach students things (…such as how to play pieces with multiple voices).

HOW DID I MISS THIS?

I think I’m going to appreciate playing piano pieces more now. It’s this wonderfully monotonically increasing thing (monotonically increasing things* rock.)

*some of them, anyway. Stuff like “tumor size” or “number of civilians killed in conflict” are numbers I would rather keep at zero.


Audiogram: more explanations


I started to reply to Bonnie’s questions about my audiogram in a comment, help then realized it was stretching out to novel-length, rx so here goes.

The axis labels are frequency in hertz (horizontal) and hearing level in decibels (vertical) – so the horizontal axis is how high or low the sound is, nurse and the vertical one is how loud it has to be for me to be able to hear it when I know it’s coming, and am straining to perceive it in a sound-insulated testing room. Mileage varies for less ideal conditions.

I gave some comparisons for scale on the pitchwise axis (where frequencies fall on the piano keyboard), but for the db axis, here are some back-of-the-envelopes: 0 db is the threshold of normal-people hearing, 60db is normal conversational speech, 90db is standing in front of a blender, 130db is a jet engine. That means you’d have to be playing the note 3 octaves above middle C at the volume of a jet engine for me to begin to know it’s there at all. This happens pretty often, actually; a small electronic device will let out a piercing squeal, making everyone else in the room cringe. I look up. “There’s some high-pitched noise in here, isn’t there?” Someone will hand me the offending device, and everyone in the room will flinch in (phantom?) empathy as I press it to my ear and hear a faint, faint whine (if anything at all).

Keep in mind that decibels are logarithmic too, so increasing something by 3db means doubling the loudness (so a jet engine is 130-90 = 40, 40/3 = 13.3, 2^13.3 over 8,000 times as loud in the absolute amplitude sense). They describe the amount we perceive volume increases in. It’s the mathematical version of saying “when something’s really soft, making it a tiny bit louder is a really obvious change in volume, but if it’s ridiculously loud already, a tiny volume increase will usually be imperceptible to people who are already hitting the ceiling with a broomstick trying to get you to turn it down.” Other senses (sight, etc.) work the same way.

Hearing aids make certain frequencies louder, boosting them to the decibel levels where I can perceive them (or perceive them better, anyway). For instance, flutes sound pretty faint to me, and disappear against any orchestra they’re playing in, but my hearing aids pick up their (very high) notes and make them louder in comparison to everything else, and I’ll perk up and go “…wait, there’s a melody in this part? Wicked!” Imagine playing with the equalizer on your stereo, but really fine-grained. Not just bass and treble, but a couple dozen sliders, maybe more; I’m not sure how many there actually are in a hearing aid, and may be off by orders of magnitude. Now imagine your equalizer could make frequencies really loud or soft instead of just making low notes a tiny bit more emphasized.

I’m not exactly sure what the frequency curve of mine is (but it would be fun to find out – maybe I should visit Olin for a “let’s play with equipment” visit. ;) It usually looks vaguely like the inverse of your hearing curve. Anyway. Now pack that processing, in real-time, into a package the size of your pinky finger that runs on a battery the size of a pencil eraser and has to survive being thrown, covered with sweat, across the room by an exasperated 9-year-old whose ears are getting itchy after running a mile with little hard plastic plugs filling them. This is why hearing aids are so expensive.

It does not work perfectly. Imagine that all the sounds you ever heard were played to you as a lossily compressed mp3. It’s why I always said no to the idea of a cochlear implant (so far, anyway) and usually don’t wear my hearing aids. I’d rather have a few things sound good than a lot of things sound crappy. Also, I’m used to what things sound like without them at this point, and struggle to interpret the morass of high sounds when I put my hearing aids on – it’s like adding more noise. I’ll usually put them on when I specifically want to be aware of something in that frequency range – most often listening to music.

One of the things I have been musing about is taking some classes on audio engineering – as in music recording, mixing, mastering, that kind of thing, and learning how to listen to sounds and a vocabulary (and a world to talk with in non-clinical terms) to describe them to others. Not sure if this would be setting myself up for a lot of undue pain. But then again, that’s what masochists are good at.


9s and flat 9s week


Gentle early wake-up, website like this exercising and stretching out on a sunny wooden floor, feeling my shoulders loosen their clench, my hip muscles release; drenching off sweat in a hot shower, pulling on clean soft clothes, reading a psychology book and then one on the history of Japanese martial arts, a sunny bikeride with newly pumped-up wheels. Warm sushi rice. Stitching together 3 different mental maps of how to navigate sub-areas of Boston; totally nailing my new song’s chord progressions and finally, finally feeling fluency creep into improvising, thin thought bridges forming between the mathematical and auditory and kinesthetic islands of how I approach a keyboard. I’m starting to be able to be more than just a robot.

This week I’ve got another new song, Gillepsie’s “Groovin’ High.” Usually it takes a few lessons before I’m ready for a new song, but I’ve started to get into a regular practice groove and the learning’s coming easier; the world of jazz piano isn’t quite as undifferentiatedly baffling. I still don’t speak the language, but the syllables are no longer painfully foreign to listen to). I think I’ve learned how to learn jazz pieces now, at least enough that I can look at other things for a bit while I plateau on this. Kevin pointed out a turnaround in “For All We Know” I’d missed, got me to play a 3-against-4 rhythm (I keep thinking that piece is in 3/4 time anyway, even if I play it in 4/4) and listen to my left hand answering the right. I have a tendency to need to play more sparsely – I try to cram too many thoughts and techniques in parallel and none of them get through. I’m starting to be able to listen to myself do these things.

We played with the sound of a dominant major plus the major of its tritone; I need to practice resolving diminished chords in different keys. Eb major no longer scares me; I find myself transposing sheet music – haltingly, sure, but being able to transpose it on the fly at all is something I’d never done before. And this week I’m working on getting comfortable with nines and flat nines (a C major 9 chord is C, E, G, Bb, and then the D above the Bb; a flat 9 is the Db) in all the different keys, since I can feel out 7s now; I can hear the chord in my head and my hands just find the notes. This as opposed to several months ago, where I was “Um… that would… 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7… but then a half-step down and whoa that sounds really weird did I really play that right? Math math math math math… yes, I guess that’s actually right.” I can play it without the math. There’s a tiny sprout of musical intuition finally creeping into my brain.

Making sushi. Golliwog’s Cakewalk. Garbanzo chocolate cake, banana (ripe), unsweetened soy milk. Work, dreaming.

Another day like this tomorrow. Life is good.


Today I learned to count.


There’s a jam session coming up on the 21st for Kevin and Steve’s students, decease and I’ve kind of committed to throwing myself off a pier into the deep end of the ocean here – I said some time ago that I’d play at the next one, ailment and… now the next one is… soon. Glub. Some interesting issues:

  • I have stage fright
  • I have stage fright
  • I have stage fright

In addition to this,

  • I have stage fright

and did I mention

  • I have stage fright?

Piano competitions and recitals: wear uncomfortable fancy dress. Escalating levels of panic during few preceding lessons and nights of practice and nightmares of botching notes, forgetting easy parts, crashing into the wrong chord, runaway acceleration (when your fingers accelerate in fear, this makes you more afraid, which makes you go faster, which makes you more afraid, which makes you go faster, which…) skipping entire phrases, passages, entire sections. Pages of music.

I’ve done all these things in an actual performance, by the way. EVERY NOTE MUST BE KORREKT! I remember competition and recital locations very clearly. Even the ones from when I was tiny, 7 or so. I remember the intimidating concert grands on stage, and touching it to get a sense of tone and feel before performance. I don’t remember playing. When I sit down at the keys “for real,” I proceed to blank out and play like a robot. BECAUSE I AM SCARED. A parentally videorecorded robot.

So as soon as I sat down in the studio and said “so the jam session is two weekends from now?” my stomach clenched in nervous terror and stayed that way for the next hour and a half (as I type this on the train to Olin, it’s still gripping the seat going OH GOD DON’T MAKE ME DO IT).

That’s why this is good for me.

If you take out the stage fright items (which compose “reasons my stomach has a death grip on my kidneys at the moment” reasons 1 through… somewhere in the low 200s, I think – you’ll get something like this.

  1. I can’t tell if my right hand (or high notes in general) mess up. THIS FREAKS ME OUT. It always has.
  2. There are other people I’m supposed to listen and respond to. I can’t blank out like a robot and block out all external noise, which is what I have been doing while playing piano for the past… gosh, nearly two decades now. I have to actually play in response to… people. Who will be listening to me.
  3. People will be listening to me
  4. People will be listening to me
  5. People will be listening to me AAAAAAAAAAAAA

It… continues in this vein. I’ll have to face and deconstruct this over the next few days – trying to get myself to relax and feel playful about it, deprogram years of freaking out (…no pressure, right?) It’s like being caught in a mental Chinese finger trap. It’s kind of fun. See? Masochism helps me relax. HA! I knew it was good for something.

That’s why I learned to count today. I didn’t know how to set a tempo for other people – remember, this “other people” thing is weird for me and music, unless there’s a conductor… the idea of me setting a beat is still odd. We literally practiced me responding to “where do you want it?” (at what tempo would you like to play?) by saying the words “Ah-one. Ah-two. Ah-one-two-three-four” at various speeds in the direction of an imaginary drummer. Alternatives: clapping, snapping, just plain ol’ counting.

We also practiced trading fours (piano/bass plays 4 measures, drum solos 4 measures, repeat, etc) which I’m still a little shaky at. Conceptually, it’s easy – I just don’t have reference points for it, and I’m used to having set physical transitions of my hands on previous notes to help my muscle memory ease into the next ones. It’s a side effect of going on automatic – you don’t typically play Chopin, abruptly stop, turn two pages, wait the relevant number of beats, then start again. Now I have to think about “well, 16 beats from now, I come in on a G-flat minor 7 and the melody’s on D,” and then figure out where that is, and then go BAM! into something that’s… hopefully not painful-sounding.

Rituals. Sometimes they help; right now, for this, I need something to hold onto. Hey stomach, you can rela- wait. Wait. Is that Gordian? You…

Aah. I’ll go and get my sword.


Yesterday was a music day.


Fedora’s suspend-resume is awesome. I can actually throw my laptop closed and into my bag at a moment’s notice, order pick it up a few hours later without getting third-degree burns, generic and still have battery life. Hibernate, case however, takes forever. And sometimes doesn’t work (I’m going to start keeping track). Ubuntu was the other way around. I wonder why. Time to gather data so I can figure out how to ask these questions.

Yesterday ended up being a day for music, with interruptions only for dinner at pika and watching the (hilarious) semifinals of the MIT 100k competition which my friend Amanda is running. Kevin had a gig at Wally’s last night and I went in, got a coke, sat down, and then they started playing Trinkle Trinkle (a fiendishly difficult Monk piece I can’t even listen to) and my jaw dropped and stayed open for the next two hours (I had to leave early to catch the train home).

Armed with a crash skim through my book on jazz theory, I went in going “okay, now I’m going to try to figure this out!The entirety of insightful writing from my notebook follows.

head —> ZOMGWTFBBQ —> head

…yeah, that would be for some value of “insightful.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen a string bass strummed to produce chords before – that was pretty cool. I was also struck by how much people didn’t play – I think solo classical piano gave me the assumption that you have to be playing something interesting and complicated All The Time. You’d think that 7 years with long rests in the cello section would have taught me otherwise.

I’m going to need to figure out how to memorize more tunes (how the heck did they play for so long without sheet music or a fake book?) and how to hear myself while other people are playing while listening to them at the same time (there were some really cool back-and-forths between the piano and the drummer) and how to figure out how solos get passed around between musicians. I’m starting to pull out things I learned from doing improv theatre and see if I can translate them to music.

Now that I can listen to jazz for extended periods of time without going “aah! It’s awesome but it hurts!*” I’m trying to start understanding what I’m listening to. Right now, I’m cursing whenever the camera cuts away from Bill Evans’s hands because I can’t hear** half the notes I’m trying to transcribe and how else am I supposed to know what they are?

*The same kind of mental pain that happens when you turn on hearing aids you haven’t worn for months and go “AAH! Noises that I can’t differentiate!” It’s not loud, it’s not physical pain… it’s… mental dissonance? Floods of unprocessable input.

*Notes are generally grouped into 3 categories for me, from low to high: (1) can hear and identify, (2) can hear but can’t differentiate – I just know “there’s a really high note playing somewhere” and (3) have no idea that a sound was made. Which notes are in which category depends on the instrument, listening environment, how awake I am, and so on. The vast majority of what Bill Evans does in that video falls in category (2), but enough are in (1) that I can sort of pick out bits and try to extrapolate the “there was a high note here” stuff for when the ratio of (2) to (1) isn’t too high. I don’t know what I’m missing for (3).


Music bewilderment: a dissection


Introduction, information pills or: What the heck is going on?

I’m trying to think about why I’m feeling weirdly unresolved and intellectually uncomfortable about the piano lesson I had this week, apoplectic and why I like it. The last part is easy: it’s the sort of productive discomfort I’ve come to associate with leaps of understanding, actual rearrangement of my mental models of the world, not just practice/internalizing/building-upon what I already understand.

The question is why the stuff we did this lesson in particular got me into this state; lessons with Kevin generally do this, and I love it, but let’s use this a case study to focus. And then there are two questions after that – the first is how I ride this particular wave and make sense of this mental rearrangement and come out the other side without wimping out and pulling out of it because it makes me intellectually uncomfortable. I should relax because I understand things differently, not because I’ve given up on it. If I ride this out well, then the second question is how I can make this learning discomfort cycle happen again and again and again – right now in piano, but also in other disciplines I love.

I’ve tried to do this case-study/generalization of my learning process with other disciplines over the years – yay spiral learning! I’d also like to point out that I’m channelling my vague understanding of Piaget right now. I think it was Piaget who originated the (delightfully cyclical/meta) mental model of learning as either adding to or replacing mental models, but this also has overtones of Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” and… oh, anyway, wherever that idea came from, I’m using it to try to make sense of what my brain is doing. (Argh. My education knowledge – vocabulary, history, how to phrase and frame things, everything – is sorely lacking. Chalk another one up for the “want grad school!” pile. But I digress.)

Now that I’ve turned a piano lesson into a (clumsily-stated) education problem, let’s begin. I’m first going to think/read/listen to my recordings and notes to build a picture of the material we covered and how we covered it – where I was, new stuff I learned, why I’im confused, and then what I’m going to do about it. Some things here may not make sense to non-musicians – please ask for clarifications if you’re curious, and I’ll elaborate.

Where I was

I proudly showed Kevin that, after a protracted battle, I’d gotten “Someday my prince will come” to the point where I could fluently solo with arpeggios and chords on my right hand through the piece while playing shell voicings with my left. I’m also usually over-reliant on sheet music, so the fact that I could do this from memory was also a big deal for me. Something previously impossibly difficult for me to do had become so easy that I was getting bored while doing it. The piece sounded right. It made sense. Win! We agreed this piece was doing well and that we’d come back and add new things to it later in the lesson.

Then I played “Well You Needn’t” with shell voicings (Charleston rhythm) on the left and the head (melody) on the right. Comping was easy and comfortable. I’d also memorized this; it wasn’t at the “have mastered to the point of boredom” level yet, but I could easily recover when I stumbled in a way that sounded good. This is a much harder piece for me because of the rapid chromatic progression of chords in the bridge – not technically difficult (when sightreading or competing in classical piano as a kid, I did especially well with quick, complex technical pieces; my fingers love fast), but understanding-difficult. I could blindly play notes at high speed, but that was it; the chord combinations sounded weird to my ears, and I didn’t know what else I could do with it other than straight sightreading of the melody.

This quickly became apparent when I tried to solo on “Well You Needn’t.” I could do a boring, rote, almost-memorized-and-predictable arpeggio solo that was essentially “I think I’ll play the notes of the root chord in ascending order, every time, because I can’t think of anything else to do!” I could also awkwardly and randomly hit notes on the F blues scale over my left hand’s comping. In contrast, when soloing on “Take The A Train” with the blues scale, I feel like I’m fluently playing coherent licks. Same licks. Same scale. Different song – it’s more apparent to me how the licks and solos can “fit” into that chord progression than on “Needn’t.”

Kevin also heard the random number generator in my attempts to solo (it was pretty painfully obvious) and suggested picking a consistent note to end on as a way to help me play phrases rather than one randomly selected note at a time. I realized that my approach to “Needn’t” was robotic – I was feeding in rules, could only feed in rules, because I wasn’t comfortable with the song itself. This sort of blind, scripted playing was (and is) my primary approach to music, and that’s what I was trying to learn and grow beyond, so this was a “yeah, you haven’t learned that yet” reminder. I’d try practicing the same thing for next time to see if it got any easier.

New stuff!

Okay. Back to “Someday.” Let’s see how quickly I can get thrown back into disequilibrium. It turns out that the answer is “very quickly.” If, instead of arpeggios (1-3-5-7 intervals from the root) I’m told to play the first inversions up (3-5-7-9, sometimes flat 9) I suddenly get very confused and things sound wrong. I’m soon counting and pointing to the keys on every chord trying to figure out what notes I should be playing, and wincing because 3-5-7-9 is unfamiliar and my brain is going “These notes should not be played together! You’ve never heard it done before!” (I used to have similar feelings about major 7 chords. Then I got used to them, and now they sound wonderful.)

During the second run-through of the song, while Kevin is notating the chords I’m playing on staff paper so I don’t have to laboriously work them out each time, I freeze the sounds of the intervals in my head and stop counting; I’m just playing by ear now. This goes somewhat more easily; it’s faster for me to find “the next note should sound like this” than it is when I’m thinking of it as the dominant 7th for Bb. I realize that once I have the notes of what something “should sound like” in my head, I drop all the math, the intervals, the theory. Which is great! But it makes it more difficult for me to learn new things, because everything is something new to memorize; I don’t have a more flexible system of being able to back-figure and analyze music.

While Kevin is writing the last few notes in, I finish playing and notice a Bach piece off to the side. It looks pretty, and I begin to easily sightread it. As I’m doing this, Kevin finishes writing and points out his notes on the Bach piece to me. Do I know what he’s doing with this piece? I don’t. It turns out that he’s taking licks from Bach to use for when he plays jazz. “Cool,” I say, imagining a Bach invention played with a jazz rhythm, or maybe a passage from Bach transposed and played over a jazz piece’s chord transitions. Then Kevin plays the ending of “Someday” to show me, and now I’m awed and even more confused; it’s none of the things I had imagined. There’s something there that sounds like the Bach passage I’d just sightread, but I could not tell you how.

That was pretty much it. I got some new licks,

Why intellectual discomfort ensued

After some thinking on various buses and trains, and practicing more, I think I’ve figured out a first approximation of why I’m in disequilibrium now.

  • Jazz (in particular, the chords and combinations I just learned) still sounds unfamiliar, and therefore in some way “wrong,” to me. Classical music sounds “right.” I’m used to it.
  • I’m only playing scripted licks; I’m treating songs as if there was “invisible sheet music” behind the fake book, figuring that out, then playing that. Again, I’m treating jazz the same way I treat classical. Perhaps the equivalent would be dancing by doing move 1, then move 2, then move 3, rather than flowing them together and responding to the music and your partner.
  • Because I come with these (and other) assumptions about “how piano is played” from my years of rote classical, I don’t know how to listen to music and take it apart – what’s there to take apart? These are the notes you are “supposed” to play. I don’t have a good grasp of the language I need to disassemble a piece (so I can later put it back together in my own way). This is the equivalent of doing surgery without names for your tools, procedures, or bits of anatomy. “Put the thing in the other thing. No, the big red thing! Now sort of move that thing like this!” I can’t think about this, ask questions about it, because I don’t have a way to express it.
  • In other words, “music theory and I are not well-acquainted.”

This is great. I have full-blown “transistor syndrome” (my term from a paper written about the first circuits class ever taught at Olin*). I feel pain, I’ve made a first identification (here) of what that pain is – what I want that it’s keeping me from getting – I have a workable first problem statement / bug report, and nowI’m extremely motivated to find a way to fix it.

I’ve looked at theory books before. They’ve always bored me to death. But now I have one (a Mark Levine book – he has some beautiful textbook-writing techniques I should learn from) and am devouring it with an intense interest because I want to talk about what’s happening in a song I want to play so that I can understand it and play it better. Win!

*They told freshmen in the class of 2006, most with no electronics experience, to build pulse oximeters with the full knowledge that  they hadn’t given them the necessary background (for instance, about transistors) to do so; the students struggled through and completed the project with great difficulty, their self-taught transistor knowledge visibly shaky. The professors marked the experiment as a success, because the outcome they wanted was for the students to want to know what a transistor was. The goal was motivation so that a more powerful learning experience could happen immediately afterwards. (I am not sure how they followed up and taught transistors a second time, though. I should find out.)

What I am going to do about it

I have a theory book now, and every time I get confused while playing through a piece, I’m looking through that book for ways to express the things that are going on so I can ask Kevin about them. That’s pretty general, so some exercises I made up for myself that I’m trying to work through before Thursday:

  • Classical music sounds “normal” to me, right? So I can start from that. Take a simple, short classical piece with a clear chord progression that I know ad nauseam and write it up in fake sheet style. I’m thinking the Moonlight Sonata might be a good first starter, since everyone knows it.
  • By happenstance, I found that one of Melanie’s piano books has sheet music for “Someday my prince will come,” but that it uses a slightly different chord progressions and some interesting harmonies – all explicitly written out. It’s also in a different key. I started transposing it and picking it apart. I want to complete a first analysis – which is going to be incomplete and terrible – so I can get feedback on it. More importantly, to balance out my theory-head tendencies, I’m trying to put the stuff I’m figuring out into my own playing of the piece.
  • I could think of more, but that’s a lot for Thursday especially on top of learning all my new stuff for the week.

Later on, I’m considering getting ear training books and working through them. This will make me faster at transcribing. I should also try transcribing and then comparing that to transcription books at first to see how close I’ve gotten. Before I try that, though, I want jazz to sound “less weird” to me, so I should try to listen to it even more, so it may be worthwhile looking into an online music subscription so I can easily pull up lots of recordings of a piece I’m interested in, depending on how easy it is for me to find things at the library (so far, not very).

Now what?

Stay tuned for how that experiment works out and whether I come up with ways to generalize whatever I learn from it. Dun dun dunnnnnn!

This is a wonderfully painful process. I never want to learn something without thinking about how I am learning it again.


Classical music improvisations


It is with some sense of glee that I’ve declared pages 133-158 (on battling decentralization) of The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom to be required reading for the Harvard law school seminar I’m working with. My team is breaking with the past mold of “ask questions to guest speaker talking at the front of the room” by throwing our entire class into a rocket pitch competition workshop and having our esteemed guests wander around as team mentors rather than talking heads sitting at the front. We’re also prohibiting laptops in the classroom.

It should be fun. Mm, anesthetist I love running classes. If there’s something I’ve learned in the last few years, angina it’s how to work the energy levels of a room; I can get people jazzed up or calmed down, though the notion of this as a conscious skill is still a new one. But as I work through course planning this semester, and attend workshops and seminars and classes on my own, I’m learning that I now have a sense for what sorts of effects the different pacing and setup of activities and environments will create, and how an event could be tugged and shaped differently. It’s still mostly a spur-of-the-moment reaction; I need to learn how to translate this sense more into being able to pre-plan and set down instructions so I can shape events I’m not physically running around.

I’m still a little woozy and wobbly from being sick; I’m sleeping 8-10 hours a night and eating uncharacteristically tiny portions, and am still dehydrated since I can’t drink lots of fluid at once and keep forgetting to sip small amounts constantly. I’m feeling sort of marginally productive again, though. In my waking hours in the last few days I’ve been studying guitar; the piano in my aunt’s house has a weird resonance with the room that makes it sound weird when I play it, but I should extend my disciplined practice outwards to the piano as well. It’s nice to be able to read sheet music on the guitar now, and to construct chords from knowing the notes rather than going “and my hands go like this for a G7!” I’m still just playing from the Berklee textbook I got with the guitar, but should record myself playing “Blackbird” or “Diamonds and Rust” sometime. If I’m very brave, I might even sing.

For piano, I’m stepping back to the basics a bit more, going around the circle of fourths with basic chords and then adding inversions and shell voicings on top of that. I’m inherently not comfortable on the keyboard for anything except the simplest of sheet music; it constrains me from being able to play anything that isn’t explicitly written down. So I’m getting familiar with a different kind of sightreading now. Again. And being utterly baffled by Monk, even when playing what’s probably one of his more straightforward songs, “Well You Needn’t.” (Even Philip Glass sounds normal compared to Monk, for me.)

I would eventually like to get around to doing classical improvisation; Gabriela Montero is amazing at this. I mean, listen to her improvising at home or on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Classical music and structures are what I’m used to. When Yifan and I went to the Acetarium one night, I ended up playing the left-hand part of a Beethoven with my right hand while accentuating bass notes with the beer bottle in my left. The third movement of the Moonlight might be a good piece to do classical improvisation on top of, but I should probably learn it properly first. (Aah, but there’s the Rachmaninoff bit I want to learn, and the Bach-Busoni, and the Schubert Impromptu I’m still dusting off.)

I think it’s just constant time I need, time to play with the keys again. I started using the keyboard as my laptop desk in my room before I got sick so that I’d idly pick out tunes while reading, and I’m beginning to do the same with the guitar while lying with a book on the sofa or in bed. And slowly, these things I want to become start creeping into the fabric of my life.

Wow. Fedora’s Community Architecture team has… goals. (Heck, they have a Community Architecture team. I should… learn from this.) There’s this whole strategy side to the business of open-source that I have to study, along with tons of development methodology stuff from software engineering. But I can’t forget that I have to actually do development and testing and engineering work in order to solidify learning the more meta stuff. Which reminds me; I’ve got an Activity to maintain and some bugs to check out…

Also, I should make a list of software I maintain. That way, during idle moments when I’m looking for something to code, I could pull up enhancement requests and go for it. Intertrac tracbacks might be a good next hack, but it’s only really a compelling itch to scratch if I persuade the OLPC and SL Trac admins to use Tracbacks (in which case it then becomes very compelling for me to implement it, since it’ll make my life way easier hopping between the two projects).

Eh, I guess I’ll just go ahead and make it. There are a lot of projects I’m ignoring here. But I’m just accepting that the Heavenly Overhaul Of My Website isn’t going to happen and making incremental improvements as I actually want them right this moment.

Eventually I’ll regain the ability to make blog posts on a single topic.


Jazz and marathons


I’m playing jazz music continuously through my earbuds at the moment. It’s curious how the way I listen to it has changed over the weeks (now several months) since I started. At the very beginning, decease it was a “this is new and interesting, pestilence but very strange!” reaction, drugs and after a few minutes I’d have to switch back to another style of music so I could listen to something comfortable again. It’s like how when soil goes without rain for too long, it parches up and becomes almost waterproof, unable to absorb the precipitation.

I’m noticing much less discomfort now, and a growing ability to relax into hearing long strings of Monk, Mingus, Tatum… still new, but not so much uncomfortably new. Okay, the things you’re doing start making sense, start fitting into patterns. I can’t play them; I sure don’t understand them. But I can see there’s some sort of pattern forming here in my mind of how this language sounds. There are syllables. The rain has started to soak into the soil. That’s where I am with jazz music; now there are syllables.

And here I also am, feeling like a child; I’m listening to jazz, I’m playing piano, I’m eating eggs and potatoes and drinking cranberry juice from the carton, sleeping underneath a pile of jackets and blankets while others work steadily and tirelessly late into the night at 1cc, on IRC. I’m seeing conversations on picking up the pieces of last week everywhere I turn. I’m like a child sleeping soundly while the adults work; I’m peeking in on them and slipping in and out, but can’t sustain my focus on all of these conversations…

…and then I realize that I can’t, and that I shouldn’t be. Responsible adults know when they shouldn’t focus their attention, where they should drop back and rest so they can do the things that they have got to do, and my focus right now should be on clearing out some things so I can eat and sleep (that’s mostly done now; I can has nutrition) and then on whaling hard on 8.2.1 testing before I leave so that can get out of the way and folks can move onwards to other things like the Fedora/Sugar Labs migration.

I’m very, very blessed to be surrounded by so many people who are Doing Things That Need To Be Done, quietly and well. There’s no drama, no explosions; we don’t have time for that. Just moving foward steadily, holding each other up. I contrast this with the intense, explosive teamwork I experienced as a student, the desperate last days of projects where my teammates and I started sleeping in shifts on the floor, coding in the car, burning bright and burning out together, because we could collapse afterwards. This is how you run when you know that you cannot.

It’s time for me to go rejoin that marathon and continue learning how to pace my sprint.