Jazz Challenge - Day 21
It's getting spicier
In this edition:
Why does art matter to me?
I play the first half of Triste passably
I see my friends starting companies, knee-deep in graduate school, purchasing real estate,
behind the wheel of a large automobile, and occasionally I find myself in a half-empty Taiwanese Jazz bar with a cup of red leaf tea in my hand and wonder, “what am I doing, spending all this time playing the piano?” I’m not particularly gifted at it and I probably can’t (and don’t particularly want to) become a professional musician. So what is this all about?
My answer, rapidly scribbled as the musicians packed up their instruments and the hostess politely invited me to leave:
Reflection on Days 10-20
Enough words, where is the progress? Triste, followed by a solo over Autumn Leaves
Practicing has become more efficient, and I think I’m improving. But as my musical sensitivity increases, my playing sounds worse. So it can feel like I’m not improving while others remark that they hear the difference (or so they say).
A good piano makes a big difference
Since I am only in Taiwan for ~6 weeks, before returning to Aotearoa, I didn’t want to get a proper keyboard. So I bought an Artesia Pro A-73 off FB marketplace for ~$200USD so I could play with a keyboard that has more than the 37 dinky keys from my Yamaha PSS-A50.
The problem is that it sucks. The Artesia Pro really sucks. I didn’t expect much from a $200 keyboard but this one is actively unpleasant to play because of the high keyboard action. The force with which I to press to hold chords means that my left wrist feels strained by the end of a 40 minute session.
I noticed this most when I got to sit at a nice upright piano (something like a Kawasaki KV30). I felt the field of possible music expand; it was like I was more closely coupled to the music and the muse.
A good teacher makes a huge difference
With the help of my aunt, I found a Taiwanese Jazz pianist whose playing I liked. On day 15, I showed up at 330pm to a rented piano studio and my mind was repeatedly blown over the course of the next hour.
In the first ten minutes, he kindly pointed out a number of low effort changes that made a significant difference to my playing. The most important of which was that I wasn’t paying attention to the register of the piano. My bass was too low and my melody was too high — keep the chords and melody around middle C unless you are soloing or comping with a deliberate affect, he said (though in Chinese).
I could go on for a while about what I learned in the lesson, but suffice it to say that he 1) thoroughly inspired me, 2) presented exercises that felt very concretely useful which I was able to use as an object of focus and become proficient at in a couple of days, 3) introduced me to more of the Taiwanese Jazz scene.
Other helpful notes:
Making sure I practice before breakfast reinforces piano as priority
Beginning and ending each day with 15 minutes of planning/evaluation
This structured approach is pretty helpful… I might apply it to some other things I care about
The doc, as always, can be found here.
Journal Log from last week
(In order of highest value activity)
Compose and record solo for Autumn Leaves A section
Can bring in Blues lick
Also look to Major II V I turnarounds
(see videos linked yesterday)
Listen back to comping from yesterday and note the things I like and the things I can improve
Progress update email
Reflect broadly on progress so far, and what I want to do differently going forward
Rhythm: beat boxing while doing eighth solo notes and playing chords. Start slow. Record and listen to myself
Do chord flashcards
Make flashcards for Triste / Blue Bossa chords
Sheet music reading
Revisit your other compositions
Finished 1-3 and did some chord memorization on the subway ride but that was quite hard
Learn 2 Blues licks and bring chords in. Slow beatbox for rhythm
Keep composing solo for AL
AL Rhythm comping with beat box
Triste comping practice
Make flash cards for blue bossa triste chords
Did all of these. Did not finish the solo though
Triste continue practice. Tidy up part A, get chords for part B
Keep trying to compose AL solo. Maybe continue Blues inspiration? Maybe try to bring in an African rhythm. Also the Philip Glass style solo
Chord voicing practice AL in time to rhythm
Do flash cards
Tidied up part A but did not do chords for part b yet. Did flash cards in morning 3 hrs practice so far. Going to do chords part B now and chord voicing practice
Tomorrow is lesson. Need to prepare with questions and set up new piano
Compose AL solo
Chord voicing exercise
The instrument makes a significant difference. It’s way harder to solo on the dinky Yamaha A50 than a proper standup piano
Day 15 - Lesson with Jazz pianist
One of the overall dreams is being able to gig with a friend for an hour at some venue. Eventually I’d also like to polish the songs I’ve written / release music
Things I’d like to work on
Learning to comp on new songs
Improving musical rhythm
Sometimes these goals feel too general. Does he have a more specific breakdown?
For example, “learning to comp on new songs” doesn’t feel like something I can aim at besides learning to comp well on one song at a time
What I’ve been doing so far
Chord voicing exercise
Rhythmic playing of the scale
Trying to compose my own solo (maybe he can listen and tell me how he’d approach)
Intermittent lesson notes:
Practice chords in right hand. They’ve been neglected.
Learn to recognize chord harmonies
Bach like line
Piano best part is the middle of a piano playing chords and harmony keep it around middle C
Philips Glass intro
Exercise: 80bpm iReal chord tones
Learn alternate intervals
No starting root
Reflection: fantastic lesson. This guy is a beautiful player.
A lot of small learnings. My walking bass was very good — basically perfect he said — but walking bass is not what the piano is best suited for. It’s pretty limiting to have it in the left hand because you can’t do double hand harmonies.
Another big lesson was keeping the playing down around middle C. Both comping for triste and the melody for autumn leaves. In general stay around middle C unless soloing.
Learning inversions is super important so you can keep the chords in the same middle range of the piano
So is hearing the chord before you play it. I think that was the mistake I was making with memorizing the 2-5-1s; for the later chords I was just shape matching and not anticipating their sound in my head.
The deliverables for next week:
Chord leading solo with the caveat of no starting with the root note
Alternate voicing autumn leaves chords. Two hand practice 80bpm iReal backing
Practice and internalize other songs. For now Blue Bossa and Triste
Try visualizing chord changes before sleep
Practiced alternate autumn leaves voicings late at night after beer with Amis group.
Also did chord voicing with Bach style voice
Autumn leaves play through with alternate voicing in middle C
Chord leading with Bach line
Quarter note chord tone improvisation
Triste play through
Did all this except flash cards
flash cards for chords in general and chord charts for BB T
Triste bass for second half of song
Chord tone improv
If time compose solo
Felt a bit tired of piano at the end of doing the tasks. Am somewhat frustrated with the quality of the keyboard I have right now. It sounds and feels bad. My wrists end up feeling sore from having to press so hard.
Total practice time ~2hr15min
Practice AL - chord tone and comping (30m)
Record AL chord tone solo (15m)
AL spend half hour trying to compose
Hear the 2-5-1 licks here
Continue Triste practice
Blue Bossa play through
Reflection: Did chord tone and comping and composing. Didn’t record chord tone solo. It took 2ish hours. Composed first bar of Autumn Leaves. Should have added flashcards to the to-do
Chord tone solo record
Record chord tone solo and send review email
Did comping practice and recorded video (many takes before I was satisfied)
Practiced Triste (also have a recording)
Practiced soloing (have a recording)
Show him my autumn leaves solo
how to quote other songs in your solos?
The descending triplet ornament
Soloing over triste
Other exercise; learn all voicings
Day 21 - Lesson 2 with Jazz Pianist
Another great lesson, but we spent a bit too long at the start trying to unpack Oscar Peterson’s rendition of Triste. He was explaining something to me about augmented chords (D minor and G) but I didn’t fully understand.
Key point: I’m still not fully solid on the inverted voicings. Forget rhythm, I need to be able to track the melody and have the chords down very solidly
Practice instructions for next week:
- Left hand Autumn Leaves shell voicings + chord tone (quarter note to begin with. Can also add approaching note)
- Triste learn second half
- straight no chaser chord structure in both hands (maybe learn melody also)
- send composed solo