Thursday, September 22, 2011


Due to lack of interest and too many things going on in my personal life right now, I am not going to make any more efforts on this project for the time-being.  That doesn't mean I quit.  I'm just taking an extended break.  I will continue to play and learn, but not on any track that I had previously laid-out.  I want to continue, but I just don't have the time to dedicate to this at the moment.  So long...for now.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Day 203: Mozart, Mozart, Mozart

I have been playing with compositions by Mozart for the past couple of weeks.  Looks like in addition to the Sonata for two pianos I am going to pick up Rondo Alla Turca as well.  Maybe one more piece before I'm done.  At some point, I will return to my original plan, but this is the course I find myself on at the moment.  With a new job starting soon, I will probably mainly update Twitter with only once a week updates on the blog.  We'll see.  Thanks for sticking with me!  I will post completion videos to Youtube and even announce when public performances will occur, so stay tuned!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Day 181: Coming Back...

In and out of a funk and then being busy looking for a job has not left much time for this project in the past 44 days or so.  I have sat down and found that a lot of what I re-committed to memory is fading.  Well, duh, when one doesn't practice, one loses what he/she learns.  I seem to be mostly fine with the music in front of me, though, so I may not be so hard-over on committing pieces to memory any longer. Also, I may go ahead and go off on a tangent here and work on some four-handed pieces (Mozart) with a friend and maybe even some eight-handed hymnal arrangements.  We'll see.  Anyway, I should be returning here soon.  I need to get back to Clair de lune.  Just don't expect me to re-commit it to memory at this point.  If I can sight-read it, I will do that.  If I decide that I still want to proceed with a recital next year, I will re-commit it to memory.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Day 137: Sight Reading Improvements

I have, in general, improved my sight reading skills over the past ten years or so.  Now I am working on improving them even more by working through not only the ragtime pieces I picked to learn, but just playing through the right hand of other pieces as well in my big book of ragtime.  At this point, I am going to spend a lot more time on sight reading.  I am unsure when I will return to Debussy. It will probably be later this summer.  Updates will be few and far between for the blog and the Twitter.  Being able to sit down and sight read for 10-20 minutes here and there throughout each day lends itself more to my schedule at the moment over a rigid hour or more dedicated practice to a technically and musically difficult piece of music such as Clair de lune.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Day 132: Clair de lune Going On Hold

I'm stopping the clock here on day 132 out of 150 and spending time on something else for a little while.  Quite simply, Clair de lune requires a lot more time and effort than I am able to put into it at the moment. I will pick up with 18 days left in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, I am going to focus on some ragtime.  Yes, I'm changing up the game plan slightly.  I had intended to finish the five pieces I set out to relearn in no more than 150 days and then I was going to move on to additional pieces by each composer.  I was going to start with Grieg and move on from there, but now I have decided I want to go ahead and learn the additional Joplin pieces.  I do not know how long this will take me.  I will not focus on committing the new pieces to memory.  That will be a secondary product of what I do beyond the five pieces in the original course of re-learning.

I feel I have to take myself off of Clair de lune also because I am getting generally discouraged by just about everything in life right now.  Having something so difficult to do during what is supposed to be an enjoyable time of my day just does not help.  Don't worry, I will be re-learning Clair de lune.  It is, after all, one of my most favorite piano pieces.

So, now I am cracking the big book of ragtime open to the two Joplin pieces I planned on learning at a later date. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Day 128: Easing Back Into Things

Depression always has bad timing, doesn't it?  I am pulling myself out of the funk I have been in and getting back to practicing.  I have completely blown the extra time I gained by finishing other pieces early.  I have 22 days left of the original goal time to finish Clair de lune. It will be tough, but I am still going to try to finish within the time I allotted for myself.  I have decided during my downtime and a lot of listening to ragtime that after I learn my additional "new" pieces by Grieg, Joplin, and Debussy, that I will devote myself to the ragtime genre.  It is too much fun and very rich.  Everyone enjoys hearing ragtime on the piano.

Enough of my future plans, though.  For right now I am easing back into Clair de lune. And by easing, I mean I only practiced a handful of measures this morning (about five).  I am going to take it slow for a couple of days so I don't get discouraged as I make myself get back into a routine.  This will definitely not help with the schedule I set out, but I think I may still be able to complete Clair de lune ahead of schedule.  We shall see!  Thank you for sticking with me during my bit of a break.  I wish I had more encouragement to soldier on.  That always helps!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Day 123: Coming Back Soon

As promised, the clock is still ticking even though I have not been practicing for the past three weeks or so.  I am still in a funk from being unemployed for so long and so other factors, but I think I am at a point now where I can force myself to get back into practicing every day.  I absolutely have not touched the keyboard during this time.  I tried playing a couple of days ago and noticed a bit of degradation in some of my re-learned pieces.  This is something I will address after finishing Maple Leaf Rag and Clair de lune. So, stay tuned because I am getting back into the saddle in the next couple of days.  I think this will help me get out of the funk I am in (coupled with some other upward trending events in my life).  Thank you for sticking with me!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Day 106: In A Funk

Perhaps not being able to practice the better part of the week has pushed me over the edge, but I'm officially now in a full on funk.  I have been unemployed for many months and am going through one of my short phases of hopelessness.  Stick with me.  I'll come out of it soon.  I am not going to stop the clock on my project.  It will continue to roll.  I'm just working on motivating myself to do many things at the moment besides this project.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Day 99: Finger Injury!

I wasn't being careful yesterday while slicing up a cucumber on a mandolin and sliced off the very tip of my middle finger.  Not an injury that warrants going to the ER or anything like that, but I sure am missing a hunk out of the tip of my right middle finger.  It is uncomfortable and awkward to try to practice right now, so I am going to practice in smaller chunks throughout the day.  If it feels like it isn't getting better, I may have to take a break from practicing until it heals.  This makes me very sad and frustrated because I am working on my most favorite piece right now (Clair de lune, if you just tuned in).  Please say a prayer for quick healing.  I'm chomping at the bit to get into intense practice on Clair de lune.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Day 97: Off The Wagon, But Back On Again!

Yesterday just didn't allow me to get practice in after I woke up late. That's OK, because I'm back on the wagon again today and devoting a full hour to practice, albeit broken up in two thirty minute segments since I had to tend to something else after about 30 minutes this morning.  The first 26 measures of Clair de lune are together fairly well.  I will spend a little more time on those measures this afternoon before moving on to the next set of measures tomorrow.

I did focus on those elusive final measures of Maple Leaf Rag this morning and can say with confidence that Maple Leaf Rag is going to be complete this week, once I can play those measures at tempo!  I have a road trip to make this week and some job hunting related stuff to get out of the way, so I may not get to make a completion video for that until next week.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Day 95: Habit Forming

I have managed to get up early for the past couple of days and, even though I don't want to stick to it, I pushed through each hour of practice yesterday and today.  I try to warm up with some Czerny or Hanon first and will break up my practicing of Clair de lune by going back to Maple Leaf Rag and some of the other pieces I have learned so far.

I move on to measures 15 through 26 this morning.  Tomorrow and Sunday, I will focus on measures 1-26 before moving on to measures 27-50 next week.  I will also intersperse each practice with focus on rough parts of the previous pieces I have picked back up as well as finishing off Maple Leaf Rag. A completion video will follow when I'm ready there (the piece is 90% ready as-is).  Since moving on to measures 15-26 of Clair de lune, I have some additional notation to bring to your attention!

First of all, see the "tempo rubato?"  This means that you may take liberty in how quickly or slowly you play the notes in these measures, but they must still each finish in nine beats.  It is Debussy's way of telling the pianist to interpret this how you wish, within the bounds of the time signature.  An eighth note does not necessarily have to be held for one count, but if you hold one longer, the rest have to be more hurried.  Also, my music is not marked like my original score I owned, but the initial notes of each measure here in the bass clef are sustained throughout each measure using the middle pedal on the piano.  And you thought that pedal was just there to separate the damping and sustaining pedal, didn't you?

I also did not mention in my overview of the first few measures of this piece an important piece of musical notation: the tie. You will notice several sideways parenthesis-looking marks between some notes.  This means the note is supposed to be held, not re-played.  For instance, if two eighth notes are tied, then the notes played are held for two beats, even though you see the same notes written twice.  There are several spots in the first few measures where Debussy wrote only one note of a chord tied, so it carries over to the next chord.  This promotes the flowing sound of the piece very well.

Also note here that the very lowest note of the chords in the bass clef and the very highest note of the chords in the treble clef are marked with a horizontal bar.  This is meant to remind the pianist to emphasize these notes most of all out of all the others in the chord.  Top and bottom notes carry the melody.

Lastly, you will note the French phrase: Peu a peu cresc. et anime.  This literally means to get louder little by little, while playing animatedly. There is also a notation that you cannot see in the picture above towards the end of measures 15-26 of dim. molto.  Dim. molto means get a lot softer.  Dim. is often a notation used for softer and molto means a lot.

Whew!  Lots of education out of such a few short measures, huh?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Replacing Bad Habits With Good Ones

I was reminded recently of something I heard a while ago about habits.  If you're going to break a bad habit, you need to replace it with a good habit or you are doomed to fall back into the bad habit you're trying to break.  Also, you should devote a certain amount of time at the same time every day to your new habit for at least 21 days to make it stick.  I have been trying to replace bad habits with a good one: Daily practice on the piano.  I have found, though, that since I haven't devoted the same amount of time during the same time of day each day to my endeavor, that I have had trouble here and there sticking to my daily routine.  In fact, if you have been following me, you have seen me have departures from my practicing several times already.  What I really need to do is sit down and tell myself that I WILL practice at a specific time EACH day and I WILL practice for AT LEAST one hour.  So, here it goes: The only time of the day that I can have complete isolation for practicing is before 8:00 every morning.  My aim is to practice between 6:30 and 7:30 every day.  If I can accomplish this for at least 21 days, I should have a new and very good habit formed.  I will be sure to tweet about my daily progress and will occasionally make remarks on the blog about how I'm doing with this new, stricter way of approaching practice.  The rough edges will definitely fall off the pieces I have already completed (see Youtube) if I can stick this out!  Clair de lune will undoubtedly be complete in 30 days or less as well if I can just make myself stick to this schedule!

Day 93: First Day on Clair de Lune

Today was the first day back on Clair de lune. Since the first couple of pages are mostly still there, I expect these parts to go pretty quickly.  The first page is comprised of 14 measures and practice went well this morning.  The piece is set in 9/8 time which means there are nine beats in a measure and an eighth note gets one count.

Note the key signature: D-flat major.  Also note that this is very soft.  Imagine the music is painting a picture of moonlight (literally what the title means).  Adante tres expressif means to play this adante very expressively. For a quick refresher, adante means rather slow, but with flowing movement.  Con sordina means to mute.  It is interesting to see this here, partially because this notation is not in French.  It may be something this particular publisher took the liberty of adding, because I don't remember a call for muting anywhere in this piece.  Muting means, in the case of the piano, to depress the damping pedal (the one on the left) to produce a softer sound.  Maybe I'll give it a try this time around...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Day 92: Back To Debussy

Well, I still have some polishing up and just a handful of measures left on Maple Leaf Rag and it is going a little slower than I would like, so I am breaking away from it for a little bit to start up Clair de Lune. This is probably Debussy's most recognizable work and is oft requested from people who know I once played it.  I am very excited about having this piece back in my repertoire!

I can play the first couple of pages of this piece still, but I am missing some notes (not hitting wrong notes, just missing all the notes in some chords).  Not sure if I want to make and post a starting video for this one.  We'll see.  I will more than likely just start from the beginning in this piece.  There will be lots and lots of musical notation to discuss on here in the coming days!!!  At day 92 out of an 150 allotted for the five pieces I have or am relearning, I'm doing pretty well to be moving on to the last piece with only a bit of polishing to be done on Maple Leaf Rag.  When I wrap up Clair de Lune, I do intend to perform a piece or two of what I've learned in a local church during worship.  I will also be moving on to those other pieces I selected a few weeks ago (  I don't expect these new pieces to take the rest of the year or so I have scheduled for my entire project, so at some point I will be selecting more pieces to learn (in addition to devoting more time to music theory since I DO finally have a textbook).

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Day 87: Ragtime Isn't Meant to Be Played Fast!

Scott Joplin once was quoted as saying: "Don't play this piece fast.  It is never right to play ragtime fast."  So true.  So many people seem to forget the notation of a vast majority of ragtime pieces, or at least the pieces that Joplin wrote.  Ragtime is often set at tempo di marcia.  This is a marching tempo.  You can't march to something going a mile a minute, can you?  It is hard to control yourself with such exciting music and it can be really exciting to play fast, but it truly does not get played that way!  And, I might add, it is quite a relief that a lot of ragtime isn't played quickly because it is already difficult enough at a marching pace!

I am down to the last ten or so measures of Maple Leaf Rag.  I have a lot of work this week dealing with junk in my garage for a garage sale this coming weekend, but I still intend to get Maple Leaf Rag out of the way by the weekend.  I truly enjoyed getting a lot of practice in on a 1970's Baldwin baby grand last weekend.  The 70's were prime years for Baldwin and that baby grand is no exception!  I should be able to get back into a good schedule of going to the local church and practicing a couple of times a week starting next week again.  Thanks for sticking with me while I go through a bunch of breaks in practicing due to other commitments!  Clair de lune is right around the corner and there is a lot of musical notation to talk about in that piece!!!!

Be on the look-out for a mini-biography on Scott Joplin soon!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Day 81: Some Review and Continuation of MLR

I have been busy busy busy cleaning out my garage the past couple of days, so I have limited a lot of my practice time to reviewing already re-learned pieces to help keep them fresh.  This means I did not get to make my Golliwogg's video yet.  Sorry!  I have a feeling I will be posting the completion videos for Golliwogg's and MLR as well as the initial video for MLR all at the same time.  Thank you for your patience!

I am working through measures 52 through 59 of Maple Leaf Rag hands separately right now.  The piece is only 85 measures long, so I don't have far to go.  Well, at least measure-wise, but I am having some difficulty with the key-change, so that plus my lack of practice time due to the spring cleaning has contributed to me not getting any farther than I already have this week.  I will be travelling this weekend, but should have access to a good piano, which is a major plus.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Day 77: Simplified Versions of Songs

Re-learning Maple Leaf Rag has brought back the memory of hearing a simplified version of it a couple of years ago at a talent show.  This is just plain wrong to me.  If you cannot learn the original piece, you should not learn it at all.  Learn pieces at your skill level.  Learning is a "dumbed-down" version of a piece of music is akin to reading an abridged version of a great masterpiece such as a Shakespearean play or an epic novel by Dostoyevsky.  Actually, I think it is worse than that.  It is more like reading the Cliff's Notes. Yeah, you get the essence of the story, but you don't get the real meat of what is going on.

Scott Joplin is not easy.  Lots of people play The Entertainer.  There is a reason for that: It is one of his easier works to learn.  Syncopated rhythms are difficult to master, but if you practice enough, you can get it down. The kids and adults you hear playing The Entertainer may not be playing it well, but at least they are usually playing the original version.  Think I'm being too harsh?  Think there is actually some good that comes out of these simplified versions of songs?  I'd love to hear from you!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Day 76: Music Theory!

I apologize for slacking a bit for the past few days.  I have been busy with some to-do items around my house and around my mother-in-law's house, plus I have been back into cooking every meal and spent quite a bit of time in the kitchen this past week making some very good food.  My focus is back, however, and I got down to practicing some yesterday and got some great practice in this morning as well.

I finally received my music theory book this week.  I bought Tonal Harmony, fourth edition, by Stefan Kostka and Dorothy Payne.  Remember, I explained that my music theory knowledge is kind of like swiss cheese?  I obviously know more than enough to play music properly, but I don't know some things that I consider basic knowledge.  For instance, I can figure out scales on my own because I know if they sound right or not.  I do not know the names of the scales, though, and am not familiar with a popular memory aid known as the circle of fifths.  Know that I know the names of scales, though, I can relay to you that a piece that has four flats in the register is in fact A♭ major.  Yay!  I feel smarter already!

So, the only real notations of importance in Maple Leaf Rag are:

The tempo here is a march.  This should not be played too quickly.  Also note that the time is 2/4 time, where there are two beats to a measure and a quarter note gets one count (or beat).  Four flats in the register means this part of the piece is in A♭ major.

This last bit of the piece is marked with a key change from A♭ major to D♭ major (see the extra flat?).  I'm not sure what "Trio" means other than this is the third part of the piece and it is a bit different.  I'm just guessing here, though.  Anyone care to chime in?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Day 71: Ragtime!

I tried making a recording of Golliwogg's Cakewalk on Saturday, but it isn't quite polished enough for my taste to post a recording.  Expect to see it posted to Youtube this week, though.

I moved right along into Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin today.  This piece is comprised of 85 measures, of which the first 17 are still solidly in my memory.  The piece is essentially broken down into four parts, each of which repeat themselves.  There is a brief return to the initial measures of the piece after the second section ends, as a bridge to the third and fourth sections.  There isn't a whole lot to talk about with musical notation in this piece, but I still plan on posting a bit of a discussion about that tomorrow.  Ragtime is probably my favorite product of American music.  It was popular in this country and around the world over a hundred years ago and has seen a couple of periods of revival, most notably in the 70's (remember the movie, The Sting?).

I focused right in on measures 19 through 23 today.  I'm taking it a bit slower because I absolutely remember nothing about a majority of this piece, so it is almost like learning from scratch.  Don't ever discount ragtime for a simple genre for the pieces are deceptively complex on a technical level, although not necessarily on a musical level.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Day 69: FB Public Page

A select few of you are members of my private Facebook page and know who I actually am.  I started a new FB profile with my alter-ego, Edvard Claude Scott, a little over a month ago and have been steadily adding mostly music professionals to my "friends" in an effort to get more attention on my blog and tweets.  I am now ready to create a public Suzuki Be Damned FB page to hopefully gain even more visibility.  I would advertise on FB, but I don't exactly have the cash right now.

Enough about the FB, after a couple of down days from not feeling so hot, I am back today.  I will hopefully get the chance to make and post a Golliwogg's Cakewalk completion video today.  If not today, it will happen during the week next week.  Regardless of when that happens, I will be starting in on Maple Leaf Rag tomorrow!  So, if I took the full 30 days for each piece, I would only be about nine days in on Golliwogg at the moment, but find myself moving on to ragtime!  I'm not going to get too excited, though, because I will need all the extra time I have gained to re-learn Clair de Lune  for sure.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Day 66: Practice on a Local Piano...

So, I finally managed to make the time to go to a local church and practice on their baby grand today.  I didn't practice for long because my time management skills seem to be lacking lately.  It quickly became very apparent to me that I definitely need to make more of a solid effort to practice on a real piano at least three times a week. At first, I had trouble controlling the dynamics of the music.  That is, I was having trouble controlling how loud  was playing.  After about 15 minutes, I got used to the piano I was playing and had a much easier time producing the range of dynamics from piano all the way to fortissimo.  The other problem I was having though was playing notes cleanly.  You see, with my keyboard, I do not get any resistance when I play a piece.  When I play a real piano, I get resistance because I am causing the hammer to strike the strings on the soundboard instead of depressing just a key that connects a circuit to produce the sound electronically.  This meant that some of the areas of the pieces I have learned thus far that are pristine on the electronic keyboard didn't come out sounding quite so clean on the real keyboard.  So, again, the only solution here is for me to get more practice in on a real piano.  I am quite well aware now why my piano teacher was made to practice on a weighted "dummy" piano when she was learning.

Anyway, Golliwogg's Cakewalk is complete, but the measures that were giving me trouble are not quite up to tempo.  So very close, though.  I still think I can manage a recording before the end of the week!  Next up: Maple Leaf Rag!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Day 64: The Line-Up for New Pieces

Since I have passed the half-way point in re-learning my old pieces, I have taken a little time perusing my music books for the "new" pieces I will learn.  I believe I have my selections.  I will learn, in no particular order:

  1. Arietta, Op.12, No. 1 by Edvard Grieg
  2. La fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair) by Claude Debussy.  This is No. 8 of 12 Preludes, Book 1.
  3. Scott Joplin's New Rag by Scott Joplin (redundant, eh?)
  4. Elite Syncopations by Scott Joplin
Why two ragtime pieces?  For symmetry.  I am re-learning two Grieg pieces, two Debussy pieces, and one Joplin piece.  For the sake of balance, I thought it only fair to Joplin to pick up two new pieces by him so that I would have three pieces by each composer in my repertoire.

Golliwogg's Cakewalk is almost done.  I only have two measures that are still a little bit of a problem, but if history serves as a lesson, I should be playing those two measures just fine by tomorrow.  Expect a recording posted to Youtube before the week is up!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Word About My Pal Claude Debussy

Claude Achille Debussy (August 22, 1862 – March 25, 1918), was the composer of impressionistic classical music.  He was born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Yvelines, France. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire from 1872-1884 and then as the 1884 Prix de Rome winner, he went to Rome from 1885-1887.

Debussy had quite a private life.  At the age of 18, he started an eight-year affair with Blanche Vasnier, who was the wife of a wealthy Parisian lawyer.  This relationship ended when he won the Prix de Rome.  When he returned to Paris in 1889, he began a rocky nine-year relationship with Gabrielle Dupont, with whom he cohabitated.  He also carried on an affair with the singer Therese Roger during the same time and was briefly engaged to Roger. He left Dupont for her friend Rosalie Texier, whom he married in 1899.  Debussy became frrustrated with her lack of musical sensitivity and intellectual limitations and started a new affair with Emma Bardac (wife of a Parisian banker) in 1904.  Debussy left Texier for Bardac and they had a child, Claude-Emma, born in 1905.  Claude-Emma died from diptheria in 1919, not long after Debussy passed away.
His planned set of six sonatas was not completed due to his death in 1918 from rectal cancer.  He died in Paris on March 25, 1918 during World War I.  The siege by the Prussian army on Paris prevented much fanfare in his funeral.  He was reburied after the war with a more fitting tribute. 

Rudolph Reti points out these features of Debussy's music which established a new concept of tonality in European music:
  1. Frequent use of long pedal points
  2. Glittering passages and webs of figurations which distract from occasional absence of harmony
  3. Frequent use of parallel chords which are 'in essence not harmonies at all, but rather 'chordal melodies', enriched unisons.'
  4. Bitonality, or at least bitonal chords
  5. 'Use of the whole-tone scale.'
  6. Unprepared modulations, 'without any harmonic bridge.'
He concludes that Debussy's achievement was the synthesis of monophonic based 'melodic tonality' with harmonies, albeit different from those of 'harmonic tonality'. (Reti, 1958)

Sources for this information are 8notes and wikipedia.  

Day 63: Grieg Piece Chosen

I spent part of my practice today, sight reading a few measures of a few selections in my big book of Grieg lyric pieces.  I think I have settled on Arietta, Op. 21, No. 1.  It is very short at only a page long. The brevity of this piece isn't why I chose it, though. It is quite simply the most beautiful of the pieces I was considering. Of course, I will not be starting it until I finish Golliwogg's Cakewalk, Maple Leaf Rag, and Clair de Lune. Speaking of Golliwogg, I am on the precipice of completeness.  I literally only have three measures that are causing some issues still. Expect to see a completion video posted to Youtube this week as I move on to Maple Leaf Rag!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Day 62: Ragtime Influence

If you have already looked up Golliwogg's Cakewalk to get an understanding of the piece I am working on, something may be nagging at you.  Could it be that the piece seems to be influenced perhaps, by ragtime?  Yes, ragtime was wildly popular at the time Debussy wrote Golliwogg's Cakewalk and this piece was obviously influenced by ragtime, albeit in Debussy's own way, of course!

I bring up ragtime because, well, my next piece I will be re-learning is Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin.  This was Joplin's first published rag and one that other ragtime composers modeled their rags after.  I also bring up ragtime because my ears are enjoying the feast of ragtime music on my Scott Joplin Pandora station this morning.  I am listening to not only Joplin, but Zez Confrey, Jelly Roll Morton, Eubie Blake, Claude Bolling, Thomas "Fats" Waller, James P. Johnson, and Jimmy Blythe (just to mention a few). I know there are some more popular names that I am leaving out, but those are the ones that have rolled through my playlist this morning.  Such invigorating music!

Anyway, Golliwogg's Cakewalk is about done.  There are just a few measures left that are shaky, but they should be taken care of in the next couple of days!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Day 59: Still On Golliwogg

Well, measures 61-86 (where Golliwogg pleads) are taking a little bit longer than expected.  Part of this is because I haven't been devoted to practicing every single day like I should.  I'm turning that around this week.  I can't lose the lead time I have gained by finishing the Grieg pieces faster than the 30 days allotted for each.  I have had excellent practice both yesterday and today on these middle measures.  Once these are nailed down, there are really only about five measures remaining that are different than the front 46 measures, so the piece should wrap up quickly once I have mastered the middle section.

I still need to put up a short bio of Debussy.  That shouldn't be a problem to do either later today or tomorrow.  After Golliwogg's Cakewalk is completed, I will move on to Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin.  After that, I will finish out this initial phase of my project with Clair de Lune by Debussy.  If I can remaster Golliwogg's Cakewalk by the end of this week (approximately 62 days), then I'm looking at having Clair de Lune wrapped up by no later than the end of May.  This is with a little extra time padded in because remember, I am budgeting 30 days per piece.  Per my budget, I would have been finishing Notturno right about now, but I am closer to finishing Golliwogg's Cakewalk, so I am pretty far ahead of schedule.  I realize I could be even farther ahead of schedule if I really sat down and practiced with the same intensity that I devoted to the Grieg pieces, so I am working to correct my "falling off" of how hard I was working.

Since I work best when constrained by a schedule, I am writing out a schedule today that will allot time at the piano I have access to locally at least twice a week.  This will help me improve as I move through this first phase and into the next phase where I learn "new" pieces!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Day 53: Stubborn Little Golliwogg

While I have only about 19 measures left in Golliwogg's Cakewalk at this point, I am far from being done with this piece.  I am having success with the left and right hands separately, but having a bit more difficulty putting them together for some reason.  It may be another week before I'm done with Golliwogg.  He is a stubborn little guy.  If I complete Golliwogg's Cakewalk in another week, I will have re-committed three pieces to memory in 60 days, 30 days ahead of the goal time.  I have a feeling that I will need that extra time to work out Clair de Lune and Maple Leaf Rag.

I have access to a baby grand for the next several days, so I intend to get some good, quality practice in.  Maybe I'll be coming back home in the next few days with Golliwogg whipped into shape?  We'll see!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Day 48: Golliwogg Pleads

First of all, I want to clarify some of what I said in my last post.  The first 14 measures of the next section are not pleading, but rather a transition from the playtime in the first 46 measures to the pleading of Golliwogg for the playing to not stop.  Sort of like playtime is winding down before we get to the part where Golliwogg pleads.  So, the first 46 measures are playtime, then measures 47-60 are a winding down, and then the remaining 29 measures of measures 47-69 are the pleading portion.  Got it?

Notturno is 99% pristine.  I went ahead and made a recording of it and am posting it to Youtube right now.  I am still having problems with the sound over-blowing the microphone on my camcorder, but the angle is at least better so you can see what I'm doing.  I hope you enjoy it.

One last note: With some of the repetition that appears in Golliwogg's Cakewalk, I expect to have it complete in another week.  Expect to see a video posted towards the end of March!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Day 45: Un Peu Moins Vite.

I apologize, I made an error in counting the number of measures that comprise the first section.  There are 46 measures, not 48.  Anyway, it is now a week later and I have the first 46 measures under my belt.  I will begin working on the next section of Golliwogg's Cakewalk tomorrow.  I also intend to finally go practice on a real piano.  Anyway, as I prepare to head into the next section of the piece, I would like to cover some musical notation that I will encounter.

Un peu moins vite literally means "some less faster."  So, a little bit slower. 

Two notations here are cedez and avec une grande emotion.  Cedez means "to yield" or "slow down."  Avec une grande emotion means "with a great emotion."  This part of the section is almost like Golliwogg is pleading with his playmate.  I like to think of the piece as the first section where Golliwogg and a child are playing together.  This part is where the child looses interest and wants to put Golliwogg back in the toybox, so Golliwogg starts pleading with him/her to not put him away.  This section is marked by sudden single or double measures back at the original tempo and liveliness, like Golliwogg is trying to show the child what he is going to be missing out on if Golliwogg goes back into the toy box.

Retenu means "return" and likely means to return to the way this was previously played.

That is that!  Notturno and Wedding Day at Troldhaugen still get the proper amount of attention and are getting more and more polished.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Day 41: Great Day of Practice

I had a great 70 minutes or so of practice this morning!  I am now up to 25 measures, at tempo, of Golliwogg's Cakewalk. That is almost 20% of the piece re-learned in just a couple of days.  :)  I expect a bit of a slow-down when I hit the key change in the next section, but I should still finish this piece ahead of the 30 day goal.  I am going to focus more on completing this piece before moving on to the next one this time because I am finding that I am neglecting Notturno and Wedding Day at Troldhaugen now that I have moved on.  Both of the Grieg pieces still have a few rough measures.

I did iron out some problematic measures in Notturno this morning, so that should be ready for a completion video soon.  There are still a few rough patches in Wedding Day at Troldhaugen that will take a few days to iron out.  If you watched the video, you know where they are.

I now have enough pieces I am working on that I can go make good use of a real piano.  Since I have one available to me just a couple of miles away, I will be starting practice there at least twice a week next week!

And one last word about the "new" pieces that I will learn.  I have not yet selected what I will learn, but I have already thrown out three different possibilities to select from for Grieg.  I am mulling over what pieces to select two from for Joplin and have pretty much decided what Debussy piece I will select (sorry, you don't get to vote on that one).  I am happy to accept suggestions for two Joplin pieces to learn.  Please check out the videos I posted on Facebook for the Grieg pieces I am considering and suggest one to me.  I am leaning towards Berceuse.  I will reveal the four new pieces when I complete Clair de Lune in approximately 90 days.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Day 39: Surprising Progress

I have 13 measures of the first 48 that comprise the first part of Golliwogg's Cakewalk under my belt.  This piece is made up of 128 measures.  I have set the usual 30 day limit on re-learning this piece.  I expect to have the first 48 measures under my belt by this time next week.  The next section after the first 48 measures is marked by a key change, which usually slows me down a bit.  Well, actually only if I'm going from dealing with three flats to five. More on that when I get to that part of the piece!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Day 38: Golliwogg's Cakewalk

I have to admit, I have been a bit of a slacker since last weekend.  I haven't practiced much.  Just a little bit of a down-cycle, but I'm picking right back up today.  Notturno is still in pretty good shape and almost complete.  As I did with Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, I am now picking up the next piece before I am completely finished with Notturno.  I am moving on to Golliwogg's Cakewalk by the great Claude Debussy.  This piece is the last of the six-part Children's Corner written between 1906 and 1908.  Golliwogg, a black male doll, was the gallant hero of popular children's books written in the 1890's by Bertha Upton and illustrated by Florence Kate. Golliwogg's Cakewalk thus is a very lively piece.  As with anything Debussy composed, you can close your eyes and envision Golliwogg on one of his adventures while listening to this piece.

I am not uploading a video of what I can remember of it because I can only remember about eight measures.  Not very impressive.  I am essentially starting from scratch on this piece.  So, I will start from the beginning on this piece.  The first section is about two pages in length.  I didn't count up the measures just yet, so if you are looking in a different publication than I have, your two pages could very well be more measures than my version.  This happens when a publisher likes to cram more measures on a page than some others.

There are a couple of musical notations of note here:

First of all is the term "allegro giusto." Giusto means strict and allegro means fast or lively.  So, literally this means strictly fast/lively.  Given the nature of the doll this piece is written for, this is a very lively piece.

You can barely make it out here, but this says "tres net et tres sec."  This is French (Debussy was French, after all) and means literally "very clean and very dry."  I think that Debussy's intent here is that the notes should be played very cleanly, but also without any intervention of the pedal (thus, the "very dry" notation).  Any thoughts on this?  This is how I've always interpreted it.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Day 34: A Brief Hiatus

I am entertaining guests from out of town for a few days, so I am taking a brief break in practicing Notturno and Wedding Day at Troldhaugen. If you have recently started reading my blog, please take a moment to go read the first couple of posts to get a better idea of what I am doing here! I am making great progress and expect to be moving on to another piece of music by the middle of next week.  It would have probably been Monday, but with the slight break here this weekend, I expect that to be more like Wednesday.  Still way ahead of schedule.  I will probably take a few days between Notturno and the next piece to practice a couple of rough spots in Wedding Day at Troldhaugen that still persist.  More about my progress and what I'm going to focus on next on Monday!  I also expect to start practicing on a real piano next week, so stay-tuned for that!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Day 31: Some Additional Notation of Note in Notturno

Like I mentioned the other day, the first 33 measures of Notturno have returned to memory with relative ease.  Measures 34 through 43 are the same as measures 1 through 10, so I essentially have 43 of 63 measures under my belt.  I got a surprise bonus this morning, though.  Occasionally, bits and pieces come back to me without practicing.  The five measures from 44 through 48 just rolled off my fingers this morning!  Now, for some additional notation I would like to introduce you to.

Poco a poco means "little by little."  It is a common qualifier and means that this section is to build and build, little by little.

Molto means "much" or "very" and is another common qualifier.  Whereas previously the notation called for poco a poco in building the intensity, molto now commands a quick building of intensity.

Dim. sempre or diminutive sempre literally means "always small."  Also note here the vertical squiggly lines. This means that the notes should be rolled or played in order from the bottom most bass note to the top most treble note, quickly of course.   

The horizontal squiggly line here preceded by the tr means it is a trill.  I believe I already covered this elsewhere.  I wanted to draw attention to the "8" here coupled with what looks like a backwards long-division sign.  This means that these notes are to be played an octave higher than they are written. That is your musical notation lesson for the day!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Day 29: Half Way There Already!

33 out of 63 measures of Notturno are now back in memory! There are a few parts of the first 20 measures that need to be ironed out still, but the thing that puts the biggest smile on my face is the middle 13 measures.  I never played it cleanly when I first played it.  I play it perfectly now.  I get the biggest smile on my face when I get to this part now!  I'm looking forward to maybe wrapping up Notturno by no later than five more days from now.  That would give me about a 26 day reserve for the remaining pieces which I predict I will very much need.

The only question that remains is: Should I go ahead an learn a new Grieg piece when I'm done with Notturno or should I wait until I have re-learned all my old pieces before tackling the new ones?  Also, for the sake of symmetry, I am thinking about learning two Joplin pieces so then I would have three pieces by each composers.  How does that sound?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Day 26: Runs in Wedding Day at Troldhaugen

I practiced some runs in the left hand that have been giving me some trouble in WDAT this morning.  They are flowing much better now.  I will come back to them this afternoon and again in the morning to firm them up in my memory.

The 13 measures that make up the middle of Notturno are now safely back in my memory.  Not quite to tempo yet, but they're there.  That now leaves the first 20 measures and the remaining 30 measures (which are comprised partially of the first 20 measures) to tackle.

I had some technical difficulties with uploading a couple of videos yesterday to Youtube.  Both videos froze during the upload each time I tried.  I tried again just now and had the same issue.  I've experienced this once before.  I'll just have to try again later today.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Day 24: Videos Made...

Videos have been made, both of the entire WDAT, but also of what I can remember of Notturno.  The only problem is that the angle I took the video from shows a lot of the top of my head and not the middle of the keyboard.  I'll have to drag a coffee table in there and set the tripod on top of that to get a better shot.  So, take two is being made in a little while.

Nocturne [nok-turn] (Noun)  Music.
1. A piece appropriate to the night or evening
2. An instrumental composition of a dreamy or pensive character

Oh how Notturno, or Nocturne, truly captures this dreamy or pensive character!  It is almost like I can envision a night-scape being painted as I listen to this music ebb and flow thoughout.  Not quite so much like Debussy's Clair de Lune, but it still works a lot like that.  Like WDAT, Notturno also has three parts: A beginning and end that are very similar and a middle section that is very different (a bit faster and more technically challenging). So, as I begin to re-learn this piece, I will start in the middle like I did with WDAT.

There are some important musical notations that I would like to briefly define for you in this piece.

Andante means "at a walking pace."  This is somewhere between 76 and 108 beats per minute.  You'll also notice here that the first part of this piece is in 9/8 time.  That means there are nine beats per measure and an eighth note gets one count (or beat).

This is the beginning of the middle section of Notturno and it is set in a different time signature, 6/8 time.  That means there are now six beats to a measure and an eighth note gets one count (or beat).  Also note that the music says "Piu mosso."  This means "more movement" or "faster." 

Lastly, in this middle section there are a couple of trills.  These are denoted by a "tr" and followed by a squiggly line to indicate approximately how long the trill should last.  A trill is when you play two alternating notes very quickly.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Day 23: Notturno

Today, I began working on Notturno, Op. 54, No. 4, by Edvard Grieg.  Notturno, or Nocturne, is one of the more popular pieces of Grieg's Lyric Pieces.  It is sort of the one-stop-shop for many different techniques such as hand-crossing, cross-rhythms of triplets against doublets, and multiple voices in one hand, among others.  I managed to play approximately 20% of the piece from memory.  I can play the entire piece still if I have the music in front of me.  Since my goal is to re-commit old pieces to memory, this will not do.  I am allotting myself 30 days for this piece as well, although I doubt I need half that time.  This is good, because I still have a few measures in Wedding Day at Troldhaugen that need some improvement.

Speaking of improvement, I had the opportunity to practice on a real piano this past weekend.  There is a vast difference between playing a piece on an electronic keyboard and playing it on an actual piano.  Weighted keys, for instance, make a HUGE difference!  I found myself struggling to play some parts of Wedding Day at Troldhaugen simply because I was used to the fluidity of non-weighted keys.  What I could quickly maneuver through on my electronic keyboard suddenly felt like I was wading through mud.  Well, not quite that bad, but I think you get the picture.  I have scoped out a location for me to go practice on a piano at least a couple of times a week until I can solve the problem of not having a piano here in my house.

I have also managed to set-up a great angle with the massive tripod I procured this past weekend.  I should be making both a video of Wedding Day at Troldhaugen tonight, plus a video of my starting point for Notturno.  I will tweet about the videos when they have been uploaded to Youtube as well as post links on my Facebook page.

One last thing to mention: I have a music theory workbook.  I do need the actual textbook that accompanies it, but may talk-up one of my music major friends locally to see if they have some music theory books I can borrow in the meantime.  I intend to share not only what I learn on my blog, but also what I do actually know.  Believe it or not, I do know a few things.  I couldn't have ever carried off the pieces that I once knew without at least a little knowledge of music theory.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Day 22: Real Keyboard vs. Electronic Keyboard

OK, I realize that an electronic keyboard is not a replacement for a real keyboard. That fact hit me smack in the face yesterday when I finally sat down at a real piano this past weekend.  I could play WDAT nearly perfect on my Technics keyboard, but had several rough spots when I played through it on the piano.  This means I must find a real piano to practice on at least a couple of times a week.  I think I know where I can use one, so this should not be a problem.

I originally intended to start Notturno today, but I was busy with too many other things and also busy traveling on the road quite a bit.  I will have to get to it tomorrow.  I am actually able to play it pretty well still with the music in front of me, so it probably won't be too difficult to re-commit to memory.

Lastly, I finally managed to get hold of a good tripod to take overhead video of my progress.  I should be able to capture video of WDAT tomorrow and what I can remember of Notturno (which isn't a whole lot).  Oh yeah, I also would like to mention that I DO have a music theory workbook in hand now and can at least start that portion of the project this week as well!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Day 20: Moving On Soon...

I still have about five measures in WDAT that are shaky and a couple of more that are a little weak.  The only cure for that is practice, practice, and more practice! I have some weekend plans that may interfere with mastery of WDAT this weekend.  Regardless of whether it is mastered or not this weekend, I will be digging into Notturno on Monday.  A little variety helps when practicing something over and over again.

A few posts ago, I mentioned that I think my project should be such that I re-learn these pieces, but also to learn at least one additional piece by each composer: Grieg, Joplin, and Debussy.  Originally, I thought that maybe I should do this after re-learning all my senior recital pieces.  Now I'm thinking that maybe I should learn the additional piece after I re-learn the senior recital pieces.  In other words, after I am done with WDAT and Notturno, I should go ahead and pick a new Grieg piece (with your help).  Does this sound good, or should I just go straight through and put the new pieces after I re-learn the old ones?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Day 19: Weekend Plans...

I'm staring at a weekend trip that may cause me to not be able to practice like I want to tomorrow and Sunday.  I will take my music with me in the hopes that I get some practice time in.  WDAT (see earlier posts if you are confused as to what I've been practicing) is coming along very nicely.  I have less than ten measures left that are giving me some problems.

I am now in search of a piano in a church somewhere that I might be able to use occasionally.  This is only because the electric piano just doesn't cut it when it comes to touch.  I think I know of a place I can go and someone who will keep my secret (and even maybe be an encourager and much needed critic).  I'll have that conversation soon!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Day 17: Keyboard Limitations

I am a bit frustrated by the limitations of the electronic keyboard I am using.  It is fine for getting the notes down, but when it comes to playing the widely varying with emotion...with playing at the correct intensity...with playing at the gentleness is just difficult on an electronic piano to properly capture the wide range of emotions of a piece.  The Technics keyboard that I use only has four distinct levels of intensity, so unless I grow a third hand to keep on the volume control to artificially adjust things, pieces don't come across just right.  They still sound good, but they don't sound great.  At least that is my opinion.  So, I need to find a real piano as soon as possible.  Whether it is an upright or a baby grand, does not matter so much to me.  Just as long as the action on it is good.

I am still focused on a small number of measures that are giving me problems.  I have improved quite a bit after practicing this morning.  It looks like I will have a good hour or so later today that will allow me to practice some more.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Day 16: Left Hand Weakness?

I have broken up those pesky remaining 19 measures or so into much smaller chunks because my left hand just seems to be lagging my right hand through these parts too much.  I will still get there by the end of the week, eight or nine days ahead of my goal for this piece!  I may finally get my hands on a music theory book this weekend and start the other part of my project.

If you're just joining me on my journey, I encourage you to skim through the past two weeks of entries.  I'm still looking for a good tripod to take the overhead video.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Day 15: Time Signatures

Things are getting a little easier with those remaining measures that have been giving me some problems.  I still feel confident that I will have this entire piece locked away in memory again by the end of the week.  I am trying to find a tripod that will crank up way over my head so I can get a downward shot of the entire keyboard.  Anyone know a great place to buy tripods?

Now for your dose of music theory.

The time signature denoted here is 2/4 time.  That means there are two beats per measure and a quarter note gets one count (or beat).  Then it logically follows that a half note, which is counted as two beats, occupies an entire measure such as in the picture above.

Common time (denoted by the C above) is also known as 4/4 time.  That means there are four beats to a measure and a quarter note gets one count (or beat).  Also in this picture is the notation "Tempo I."  This is usually used after a passage of music that is at a different tempo than the composition began with.  Once this passage of music is complete, a composer will often note "Tempo I" to let you know that the original tempo called for at the beginning of the composition is in effect again.

Remember forzando?  I can not seem to track down a definition for fffz, but I can imagine that it is like forzando (fz) but with the most sudden emphasis that you can muster.  This is an intense finish to the piece.  The most intense chords in the entire piece.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Word About My Buddy Edvard Grieg

I love Edvard Grieg.  He was a truly gifted composer.  His lyric pieces for piano are among some of the best at capturing the emotion(s) of what he was writing about.  It is almost as if you can close your eyes and see him painting a scene with notes.

The short run down on my man, Edvard Hagerup Grieg (June 15, 1843 - September 4, 1907).  He was a Norwegian composer and pianist of the Romantic period.  He and his wife were barely five feet tall.  He was raised in a musical home and studied in several schools during his youth.  He even attended the prestigious Leipzig Conservatory, which was directed at the time by Ignaz Moscheles.

In June of 1867, he married his first cousin, Nina Hagerup.  The following year, their only child, Alexandra, was born.  She died only a year later from meningitis.  They made their home at Troldhaugen, Norway.

He was responsible for many familiar piano compositions including Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, Puck, Butterfly, March of the Trolls, and Berceuse.  In fact, many of Grieg's lyric pieces may be familiar to you from movies and tv shows over the years.  In my opinion, though, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, is probably his most recognizable work.  These lyric pieces were composed in the 1890s during his nationalist phase.

Although he was in failing health in 1900, he continued to undertake long concert tours.  He loved the public spotlight and could not stay away from his adoring fans.  He actually passed away suddenly in 1907 getting ready to depart for a concert tour in England.

For a more detailed run-down of EHG, please visit the following websites:

Day 14: Some Problem Areas

Making this journey without a teacher to help can be a bit discouraging at times.  I feel like I just want to give it up sometimes.  One of the biggest reasons why I chose to make this a public experiment was so I wouldn't just quit.  I chose to keep it anonymous, however, so if I failed to get to the level I wanted to in the end, I would not necessarily have to reveal who I am.  So, in a way, you are taking the risk by following me on my journey that I will not get to the top of the mountain.  It is a small risk, given the amount of determination I have in succeeding, but there will be times where I'll feel like I've hit a blizzard on the way up the mountain and need to turn back.  Today, I just feel like the cold is setting in and I'm wussing out.  I have about 19 measures of WDAT that are giving me trouble.  I know that with diligent practice, they will come out just fine.  I'm just getting a little frustrated, that is all.

So, if these 19 measures get ironed out this week, I will have remastered WDAT ahead of the 30 day goal and will then proceed on to Notturno at this point next week!  I'm still working on a set-up for the video camera to capture the whole keyboard.  Please be patient with me, I know it is important to post videos of some of my progress!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Day 12: More Progress and Notation Remarks

Day 11 sort of fell by the wayside.  That is ok, though, because I need a little break here and there to let things sink in.  I sat down and played, at tempo, those last 17 measures from memory this morning with no mistakes!  Today, I focused on probably the technically most difficult part of WDAT.  It is the few measures that lead up to "The Conversation."  The bass clef is particularly trying on me through this part.  I practiced for about 40 minutes, focusing on the left hand.  I will come back to this later today and practice it some more.  This will take a little longer to master than other parts of WDAT.  I still think I may have this under my belt by the end of next week.  If I do, great!  If not, I will still have time left on my 30 day goal.

Now, for the notation lessons of the day!

The notation fff represents fortissimo.  This is very loud.  As loud as can be played.  The notation fz is forzando.  This is not a notation I see very often.  In fact, of all the pieces I have ever learned, I think this is the only one I have ever seen this notation used in.  Forzando means to play with force.  In other words, these notes are to be played with a sudden emphasis or accent.

Here, we see poco rit. and a tempo.  Poco rit. is shortened from poco ritard and means to play these notes in the first part of the measure a little slower.  A tempo (say ah tempo, not a tempo) means to resume normal speed.  Pick up with the tempo you were playing right before the poco ritard.

Piu means more.  Since it accompanies the notation f for forte (loud), then the intent here is to play this measure "more loud."  As if there were a crescendo, but I believe the intent here is to play this measure a step up from the previous one.  A crescendo would be a gradual build from the previous measure, so I think this is more like jumping the volume up a step instantly.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Day Ten: Those Extra 17 Measures!

Since the bass clef of the last 17 measures is repetitious, I practiced this section tonight hands together.  There is quite a bit of repetition here, actually, so I can confidently say that after about 20 minutes into practice this evening, I had this last bit of WDAT re-committed to memory and at tempo!  After that was nailed down, I returned to the first 30 or so measures since there are still some weak spots there.  I should be moving on to the final 26 measures of the first section (which remember, are repeated in the final section, right before those final 17 measures) starting tomorrow.  By this time next week, I may actually have WDAT back in my memory, but some parts not up to tempo yet.  I expect to have re-mastered this piece by the weekend of next week!  More musical notation to discuss tomorrow and that promised mini-bio of Grieg will be here soon, I promise!

How am I doing?  What do my readers think of this so far?  Please comment!  And if you have not already, please follow me on Twitter (suzukibedamned)!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Day Nine: Minimal Practice, BUT...

...some of WDAT is coming back to me with little effort.  Not all of it, but some of it is.  Some of the problem areas that I had before that I have practiced over the past couple of days with more intensity are coming out very cleanly now.  Feeling great!  I am getting more excited and confident in how this is all going to end up!  I still owe you, my devoted reader, a short bio on Edvard Grieg.  Perhaps I will take the time to do that tomorrow while listening to my Edvard Grieg channel on Pandora.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Day Eight: Tempo di Marcia un Poco Vivace

The first 30 measures are shaping up.  I am finding it interesting that as these measures come back into memory, I am having some of the same mistakes I made many years ago pop back up.  I expect that diligence in my practice will correct the problem areas.  Again, 30 measures under my belt in the front-end means 30 measures under my belt on the back-end.  "The conversation" seems to be holding up nicely and I still go back over it hands-separately for good measure.

Whenever I practice, I try to practice a measure plus one.  That means I practice a measure, plus the first note of the next measure.  This helps in committing the piece to memory, but also helps create starting points in my memory in case I make a mistake when performing.

Musical notations of the day are: Tempo di Marcia un poco vivace and sempre.

Tempo di Marcia un poco vivace is just as you might think: The tempo is a slightly lively march.  There is a lot of partying going on on the wedding day.  It has to be played appropriately!

Here, the notation is sempre pp.  Sempre means always and usually accompanies the playing style desired by the composer.  Here, sempre pp means always pianissimo.  Pianissimo means very soft.  The party part of WDAT is both soft and loud.  It builds several times and has a very climatic send-off into the conversation.  Almost like the bride and groom literally step into a quiet room.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Day Seven: Surprising Myself

Well, I sat down just now to run through the parts I had practiced this week and managed to play them almost flawlessly at tempo without the music!  I have the 50 measures that comprise "the conversation" under my belt.  I have approximately 10 of the first 56 measures under my belt as well.  The good thing about the first 56 measures is that they are entirely repeated in the last 65 measures, so once I learn the 56 measures again this week, I will be most of the way towards having this one back in my memory and spending time making sure it is played according to the musical notation!

I had originally intended to go borrow a music theory book this weekend, but my travel plans fell through.  I may have to reveal myself to a friend of mine nearby who has a degree in music, just to have something in the meantime.  Still pondering if I really want to reveal myself to anyone locally (besides family that can keep their traps shut).  Anyway, it is time to go practice a few more measures of "the party" so the day isn't wasted!  Woohoo!

I am trying to make sure this blog stays interesting and may not update it every single day.  I will always note what day I am on when I make the primary entry regarding practice for the day.  I may only make a couple of entries a week regarding practice, though, just to keep your interest.  Sound good?  I am always looking for feedback, too.  If you have any comments, positive or even negative (I need brutal honesty, just try not to heap it on me), please leave them as a comment on my blog, a tweet, or by email.  Thanks!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Day Six: Going Slow...

I haven't had a chance to practice today for various reasons.  I still think I might have the chance and will come back and update if I do. Things have progressed quite nicely in just five days and I am pleased with how WDAT is pulling together.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Suzuki Be Damned? Well, Not Really...

At first glance, you may think that I am completely anti-Suzuki Method.  This is not entirely the case.  To start, you must understand that the important elements of the Suzuki Method are:

  1. An early start (aged 3-4 is normal in most countries)
  2. The importance of listening to music
  3. Learning to play before learning to read
  4. The involvement of the parent
  5. A nurturing and positive learning environment
  6. A high standard of teaching by trained teachers
  7. The importance of producing a good sound in a balanced and natural way
  8. Core repertoire, used by Suzuki students across the world
  9. Social interaction with other children: Suzuki students from all over the world can communicate through the language of music (source:
An early start?  Yes! The importance of listening to music?  Yes! Learning to play before learning to read?  Yes and no (more on this in a minute)! Involvement of the parent? Yes! A nurturing and positive learning environment? Yes! A high standard of teaching by trained teachers? Yes! The importance of producing a good sound in a balanced and natural way? Yes! Core repertoire, used by Suzuki students across the world? This is fine, as any teaching method is going to employ a core repertoire, so yes! Social interaction with other children?  Yes, but only if they are talented.  Ahhh, now I'm hitting on something that is at the belief of Shinichi Suzuki, the creator of the Suzuki Method: Everyone is equal and can learn talent.  Not true, I say.  If you have a gift, you are going to be able to be truly great. Not everyone can learn to play like Andre Watts, Vladimir Horowitz, or Van Cliburn.  I think we all have the ability to learn, but the ability to be an artist is something you are born with, not something you can learn.  

There are tons of pianists out there who can play a piece technically perfect, but they don't have the musical depth to truly move you.  This is what separates the everyday pianist from a true great like Watts, Horowitz, or Cliburn.  So, social interaction with other children in the Suzuki Method only works if the other children have a gift, as far as I'm concerned.  Also, I believe that in order for a student to truly learn music, he or she must be learning to read and play at the same time.  The whole belief that you should learn to play before learning to read comes from the observation that we learn to speak before we learn to read.  I do not think you can translate this to music.  In order to build a solid understanding of music, you must learn the theory  and how to read from the very beginning.  It might be fine if the student is too young to truly understand, but it must be introduced as soon as they have better understanding.  The Suzuki Method is not always very good at doing this, which is why I believe I never became really good at sight-reading or being able to sit down and bang out a piece without hearing it first (listen and copy).  Basic time signatures have meaning to me, but anything more advanced trips me up.  Anything with more than a couple of sharps or flats trips me up.  This is why I am trying to go back and fix things.  It's sort of like I was only taught a little bit how to read growing up and can now only speak every other word or so when I read a book aloud.  Get the picture?

Enough of my ramblings.  I just wanted to get it off my chest that I am not completely anti-Suzuki Method.  Just trying to correct what I perceive as an injustice done to my path through studying piano for fourteen years.

Day Five: Pull Back to the Conversation

I practiced a bit of the same part of the wedding party this morning, but pulled back to the conversation just to make sure it truly begins to get cemented inside my noggin.  I am thinking that this initial phase may take longer than six months.  I am much older than I was when I first learned these pieces and my brain doesn't retain information like it used to.  Regardless, I still had a decent practice this morning and will probably work on splitting my practice up into two or three shorter practices during the day instead of one long one early in the morning.  I think this may contribute more to my success.  Thoughts on  this?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Day Four: On To the Party!

Although they need practice, the first several measures are still in my memory.  I practiced the next ten measures or so that I can't remember a lick of (see the video, I didn't even land on the correct first notes of this part, so it is completely gone!).  Anyway, the party is a bit more intense when it comes to what is going on in both the treble and bass clefs.  Craziness.  This may take a little longer than I anticipated, but I'm still sticking to my guns!  I still believe I am on track to get this puppy under my belt within the 30 day goal.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Evolution of the Project?

I'm thinking right now that I may tack-on one new piece by each composer I am re-learning for this initial part of the project.  So, when I get done with all my senior recital pieces, I will be looking to learn new pieces by Joplin, Debussy, and Grieg.  I may pick a few that interest me and let my readers vote on which ones I should learn.  We'll see.  That is a way off since I am only at the beginning of this journey right now.  After these additional pieces are learned, I can move on to the second phase that I mentioned when I started this (selected pieces by Debussy).

Day Three: Poco Tranquillo

I have now made it through the 50 measures that comprise "the conversation" of WDAT.  It will take a couple of more days of polishing and making sure it is locked away in memory, but I can actually play it for the first time in a very long time.  How exciting!  So, I wanted to take a quick moment to discuss some of the musical notation in this part of WDAT.  If you have a copy of the music, you can check this out for yourself.  If you don't have a copy of the music and want one, please contact me and I will refer you to the best compilation of Grieg lyric pieces to pick up for your own enjoyment.

At the beginning of this section, the music is marked "Poco tranquillo."  This means to play this section calmly.    This is very important in setting the mood of the private conversation between the bride and groom.  Also, there is another notation here, "cantando," which means "singing style."  These notes should be played such that they mimic singing to each other.

This passage is also marked throughout with "dolce," which is a reminder to play these parts "sweetly," as they are talking lovingly to each other.  Note that the first measures start piano (and build a bit), but the next few measures that get repeated start off pianissimo.  It's as if they start softly, almost whispering, and build in their conversation, but then break it down to a whisper again so as to keep their very sweet exchange private.

I think I may have to upload a video of this section for you to understand what is going on here once I have it ready.  Oh, before I drop off for the day, one more term here: "una corda." Literally: one chord.  The pedal is depressed through several measures here to capture what is intended as one chord over several measures.  At least that is what I remember it being.  I entertain corrections to anything I may have wrong here.  Remember, music theory is coming into the fold for me as soon as I can get hold of a good book.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Day Two: The Conversation Gets Passionate

The first 18 measures that I practiced yesterday are the beginning of the bride/groom dialog in this section.  The next 16 measures that I practiced this morning are the most passionate part of that encounter.  Although it starts a bit muted, it picks up a bit of intensity through this part.  I sort of think of this part as them both really looking deeply into each others eyes and telling each other how much they truly love each other and are so very happy that this day is finally here to start the rest of their lives together.  I know, I'm being a bit sappy here, but when you listen to this, you will understand.  I may have to post a recording of the completed section at the end of this week, just to give you a better understanding.

Anyway, this particular section takes a bit more out of me to re-learn, so I may spend tomorrow on it as well before moving onto the final measures of this section (which are essentially a repeat of the first 18 measures with a couple of extra flourishes thrown in).

Monday, January 24, 2011

Day One: Familiar Feelings

For those who are not very familiar with Wedding Day at Troldhaugen (WDAT), let me educate you for a few minutes before I delve into day one of my journey.  WDAT is essentially broken into two parts, with the first part being repeated at the end with some extra measures to close out the piece.  The first part is comprised of 56 measures, the second part is comprised of 50 measures, and the final part is comprised of 65 measures (again, it is a repeat of the first part, with a few extra measures tacked-on to complete the piece).  WDAT was written by Grieg, most likely to commemorate his marriage to his first cousin Nina.  Their home was at Troldhaugen, Norway, which is just outside of Bergen.  When I listen to this piece, I close my eyes and can see the events of the wedding day taking place.  In the first part, the business of the wedding day is evident in the tempo and intensity of the music as it builds and builds until it breaks into the second part.  When the second part arrives, it is markedly softer and a little bit slower.  The treble and bass talk in turn to each other, almost like Edvard and Nina slipped away from the festivities for a few moments and are having a moving conversation. Then, at the end of this section, they enter the wedding day again and all it's business.  The piece carries on as it did before the middle part, but has a very strong send-off at the end.  So, the next time that you happen to get to hear WDAT in it's entirety, just think of the wedding scene and the bride/groom conversation and you will appreciate this piece anew.

Now, on to day one of practice!  I have chosen to focus on the middle-section first (the conversation I mentioned above).  Today, I practiced both the right and left hand parts separately over the first 18 measures.  Wow, that sure brings back memories to practice a measure repeatedly and then move on to the next and the next, etc.  After about 30 minutes, I put both the right and left hands together and played through these 18 measures nearly flawlessly (with the music, of course).  Before today, I had barely been able to stumble through this while trying to sightread.  Big confidence booster for me!  I practiced some isolated measures with both hands, but mainly focused on learning them separately for now.  Tomorrow, I will run through the first 18 measures as a sort of reinforcement and then move on to the next ~18 measures.  The middle section should be mastered by the end of this week!

I will find a little time this week to write some more details about who Edvard Grieg was.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

My Current Keyboard

I currently have a Technics SX-PX228 electronic keyboard.  I bought it over ten years ago.  It has great sound and pretty good touch for an electronic keyboard.  It is the same keyboard that Billy Joel and Elton John used to haul around when they were doing their tours together.  I love it because I can record two tracks on it.  Four-handed pieces played with yourself?  Yes, thank you very much!  I also enjoy another little feature that you don't have with the real deal: headphone jacks.  I can practice to my heart's content without disturbing a soul.  How great is that?

I do plan on ultimately getting a real piano.  When I do, I do plan on still keeping this keyboard for at least practicing purposes.  And hey, with a MIDI box, I can play on the new Rock Band 3!  :)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Word About My Piano Teacher

I wanted to take a moment to talk about my piano teacher of fourteen years.  No, I'm not going to tell you her name.  That could give me away!  Anyway, I don't want it to seem like I am unhappy with how she taught me or anything like that.  She is one of the best piano teachers around.  It has been about seventeen years, I think, since I last took a lesson from her.  She taught the Suzuki Method, yes, and it is for sure that is what I am railing against; but she did do me a lot of good over my many years of taking lessons with her.  She did depart from the Suzuki books after book three and she did attempt to help me understand some of the music theory behind what I was learning.  Alas, I still primarily learned Suzuki style by listening and copying on the keyboard.  She would often record a section of music on an endless cassette and I would use it to help me commit a section of music to memory each week.

Anyway, I just wanted to jot a quick, positive note about her to assure you that I am not disappointed with her teaching.  Soon, I will write more in detail why I am so anti-Suzuki and why I have finally determined that I must do something about my shortcomings!

Order of Music

I just realized that I forgot to put things in order in my last post.  I listed what I performed (not in the specific order, just as the pieces came to mind), but I failed to list them in the order I plan on re-committing them to memory.  So, here is the official list:

  1. Wedding Day at Troldhaugen
  2. Notturno
  3. Golliwog's Cakewalk
  4. Maple Leaf Rag
  5. Clair de Lune
The Grieg pieces are not technically difficult, but are between middle to upper-middle on the musical difficulty.  Golliwog's Cakewalk and Maple Leaf Rag aren't too terribly difficult musically, but are a bit more difficult than the grieg on the technical side.  Clair de Lune is more on the difficult side in both categories, which is why I'm saving it for last.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How To Get Started...

I hope that as I make my journey from fragments of remembered pieces to being able to perform an hour-long recital with a complete understanding of the music inspires some of you out there who had lessons years ago to get off your keister and get back into the groove again.  I have a few days of setting this whole thing up, but when the name of the blog suddenly came to me last night, I knew it was time to at least start writing about it.  Fortunately for my loved ones, I currently only have an electric piano that I can plug headphones into.  It is a good quality one (Technics, full 88-keys) and is good for now.  Eventually, I will have to get a real piano though.  Nothing beats the sound and the feel of the real deal.  If I get enough followers of my experiment, I may start up a Paypal fund for people to contribute a buck or two occasionally to help me get an upright or baby grand.

So, what do I need to do before I can start "Day 1?"  While I do need a good basic music theory book to start from the beginning (even thought I DO know some stuff, it is just fragmented thanks to the Suzuki Method), it is not necessary for me to have this book at the very beginning.  I do need to do the following, though:

  1. Figure out when I can have at least an hour of time uninterrupted to practice.  
  2. Lay-out the order I am going to re-commit my senior recital pieces to memory.
  3. Make video recordings of what I can recall of these pieces for now and post those videos to Youtube (you need a reference to know that I truly am not able to play more than a page or two of these pieces at present).
  4. Set a time-frame for re-learning these pieces and an end-result.
As far as when I can have at least an hour to myself, I think I am going to have to get up really early in the morning.  I am not much of a morning person, but this is plenty enough motivation for me to hop out of bed a bit earlier each morning.  Nothing makes me happier than to be able to play a song completely and to play it well and to play it not only for my enjoyment, but for the enjoyment of others.

The order of re-learning is probably a bit easier since my performance was made-up of pieces of varying difficulty.  I performed the following:
  1. Nottruno, Edvard Grieg
  2. Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, Edvard Grieg
  3. Golliwog's Cakewalk, Claude Debussy
  4. Clair de Lune, Claude Debussy
  5. Maple Leaf Rag, Scott Joplin
There were a couple of arrangements of hymns thrown in there as well, but I am leaving them off the list and will only include them as a surprise when I am ready to perform all these pieces together.

I have a nifty little HD camcorder that will capture my "fragments" just fine.  I will post each performance in the next couple of days.  As far as the time-frame goes, I think I should give myself six months to re-commit all these pieces to memory.  I may have to adjust as I go along, but that sounds good to me.

What is the end result?  I plan on giving a recital when I'm done.  It is obvious that I will be revealing my identity once I do this.  That is OK.  True success will come after the recital as I plan on taking on four new-to-me works by Debussy as well as the entire Kinderscenen by Robert Schumann.  I imagine that task will take over a year, but the end result will be a nice hour-long (or so) recital that I will give.  At that point, I am hoping that I will have learned enough by teaching myself that I will have a decent repertoire at hand that I will continue to build on, that will allow me to perform at weddings and other special events.

I intend to make this journey entirely without the help of a teacher.  At least for the initial stage where I am re-learning my senior recital pieces.  Every single day will be chronicled.  Just stay-tuned for updates right here!