Next on my Chopin list…

… here’s the Fantaisie-Impromptu, which I’ve been learning for the past few months:

This was one of the pieces on the first piano compilation CD I ever got hold of, at age 15. It had 18 tracks and I think I can play 10 of them now (or at least could at one time, I’m out of practise at some of them now)… I had thoughts of trying to learn all 18, but that would probably be a bit of a pointless exercise. Not to mention strictly speaking impossible, since one of the pieces needs two pianos and two pianists!

The Fantaisie-Impromptu is a good demonstration of something that I’m very bad at remembering and applying – not a piano-specific thing in fact, but a general life thing. Thing is, I avoided trying to learn the Fantaisie-Impromptu for years because it looked too hard – for most of it, the right hand plays quadruplets and the left hand plays triplets, and I thought that getting them to synchronise properly was going to be a nightmare.

But when I finally decided to tackle it back in January this year, I found the key: it’s not hard as long as you don’t think about it too much. The last thing you want is to be trying to count your way through every bar, working out in detail where each note falls in relation to the other hand’s part. That way quickly leads to insanity because the piece is way too fast for that. All you need to do is learn each part on its own, then once you have a reasonable grasp of them separately, try playing them at the same time without really thinking about what’s going on… just let it flow and let the music take over. I am not good at this at all… usually I will over-analyse everything to death rather than just going with the flow and letting it happen. But I’m starting to see that in certain cases it’s the only approach that won’t drive you mad… if it applies to the Fantaisie-Impromptu, maybe it applies to other things in life too…

(I’m not very happy with the audio quality in this one – something weird is definitely happening. Will look into alternative recording methods for my next video).

I achieved one of my life goals…

… with hopefully a good 40 or 50 years to spare.

Namely, I learned to play a Chopin Etude:

(OK, I know it’s a fair bit slower than it’s meant to be and there are a few mistakes, but I’m very happy to have even got it to this point. Bars 79-82, the bit near the end with ascending triplets in both hands, especially had me almost tearing my hair out for a while. In the end I had to devise my own set of exercises just for those few bars and beaver away at them for slow and painstaking hours to stop the ending from falling apart completely. Probably a good indication that I should have picked an easier piece, but by that time I was determined to complete it).

Chopin wrote 27 etudes (studies) in three sets. This is the no. 5 etude from the first set, imaginatively nicknamed the “Black Keys” Etude due to the fact that the right hand plays entirely on the black keys. That might sound like a bit of a limitation, but in fact it’s not that bad – using only the black keys you can play a major pentatonic scale starting on G flat. A lot of music of various genres uses pentatonic scales… the Skye Boat Song is another well-known example. It’s my favourite etude out of the handful of popular ones that always make it onto Chopin compilation CDs.

Obviously this is a very different style to my previous piano project, but I think it shares at least one similarity. Both Chopin and Bach imposed on themselves what seem like quite severe technical restrictions (using only the black keys in Chopin’s case, conforming exactly to all the rules of a fugue in Bach’s), yet within those constraints they both produced wonderful music that doesn’t sound restricted or stilted in the slightest.

Right. Now that’s out of the way, I’m off to go learn something that doesn’t take me literally years to finish!

 

Bachtime

One of the advantages to our new flat is that I’ve got the nice electric piano that used to belong to my Uncle (but was languishing in the garage at the old place due to not fitting up the stairs) in here. I’ve been taking full advantage of it to learn some pieces I always wanted to play. Here’s a Bach 4 part Fugue:

I loved this one as soon as I heard the Well Tempered Clavier (played by Glenn Gould, who’s a lot better at it than I am). It just amazes me that anyone can even write a four part fugue that complies with all the complicated rules for how fugues should be constructed (and this one does) at all, nevermind also produce something so musical and satisfying at the same time.

Fugues start off like rounds where each voice enters in turn a few bars apart with the same melody (called the subject). After that, things get more complicated – another melody (called the answer) is introduced, and the subject is usually repeated in numerous ways (upside down, backwards, etc.), the different voices layered on top of each other producing complex and ever-changing harmonies.

The Well Tempered Clavier is made up of two books, each of which is a collection of 24 preludes and fugues in every major and minor key. This is the A minor fugue (no. 20) from the first book. It’s one of the longest – but I think the length gives the music more weight than the shorter fugues and makes the climax it builds to near the end more dramatic. I hope you like it.

I’m not actually playing it from memory… I have the score scanned into a PDF file which is open on the laptop, and the USB cable in the foreground goes to a foot pedal configured to work as a “Page Down” button so that I can turn the pages with my feet. (They’re not doing anything else; keyboard instruments in Bach’s time mostly didn’t have pedals so I don’t use the piano pedals while I’m playing Bach either). I suspect the score is actually doing the same job as Dumbo’s feather at this point… I’ve played the piece so many times now that it must surely all be imprinted on my brain, but if I can’t see the music in front of me, I freak out and forget how to play it.

(Apologies for the audio quality in some bits – I was recording direct to my laptop from the piano’s headphone socket which started off sounding fine but went a bit weird for reasons I’m not sure of…).

 

Gladiolus Rag

I love Scott Joplin… always have, ever since I was about 5 years old, oddly enough. I’ve heard his music described as “intoxicating” and I totally agree… I find it so easy to lost myself in it, either just listening to it or playing it myself.

This is one of the best piano books I ever bought:

(Despite the editor name, it’s not a dodgy knock-off I got from Del Boy 😉 )

All of Scott Joplin’s ragtime pieces in their full original versions, including the original cover pictures as well.

Hard to imagine now, but back in the days when pianos were more widespread than any sort of sound recording device, those sheet music booklets would have been a pretty common sort of musical entertainment. Much more interactive than a CD… ultimately more rewarding as well, maybe.

Anyway… have finally got back into playing the keyboard a decent amount lately, so thought I’d give one of my favourite rags another bash. Not one of his most well-known ones (though there are still zillions of videos of it on Youtube, most probably better than mine). My keyboard isn’t too bad for playing piano pieces if you plug a decent sustain pedal in; the sound quality and touch sensitivity are pretty good, it’s mainly the weight of the keys that I miss. This is the first time I’ve tried filming myself playing and it was quite illuminating… I’ve always known I have flexible hands, but I’d never noticed the weird way some of my fingers bend backwards before! (On the other hand I have always known that I involuntarily make weird faces while I play… hence the close-up angle).

Enjoy :).

PS new Sonic Triangle material coming along nicely now… new EP is in the works, the first track of which is coming together pretty well :).

 

My strange music taste again

Been listening to this a lot…

Just bought it from Amazon MP3 today. Want to get myself in the mood for when I go and see them live next month :D. They’re one of those bands I feel like I shouldn’t like, but I love them anyway. Looking forward to the new album as well, but I haven’t bought it yet because I’m hoping someone will get me it for my birthday (yes, that is a hint 😉 ).

I must be feeling musical as I had a go at playing the piano for the first time in a while (well, to be more accurate, playing proper piano music on my keyboard). I’m having another crack at learning Beethoven’s Appassionata (which I used to be able to mostly play the last 2 movements of but have got rusty) and the Fugue in A minor from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier book 1 (which I just find amazing to listen to but never had much luck with learning before).

Both kind of challenging… wish me luck, I’m gonna need it.

(Hmm. Wonder if I’m the only person ever to write a blog post about Evanescence, Beethoven and Bach…).