Two New Piano Compositions

I recently completed two piano compositions. The first is just above, and came about due to an exercise I was doing from my Music Composition for Dummies book. I had to make an 8 bar chord sequence, using randomly selected chords and create a melody to fit it. As it happened I steered away from the exercise pretty early on and instantly started placing extra chords between some of the random ones to help keep it smooth. But I managed to use all of the chords within the first minute of the piece and from then on I had to choose all of my own chords. The reason I like this piece is because I use the same theme again and again, and each time play it in a different key. Modulation isn’t something I’ve spent time learning about, but back in May, when I learnt the first movement from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, I noticed that he was continuously changing key and so tried to emulate the way he changed key. I’m quite pleased with the end result as I feel the modulation happens quite naturally and even comes full circle, ending on the key it began in, A minor. However, I’ve still a lot to learn about modulation as I don’t fully understand it yet. So far I’ve merely been exploring it through experimentation, which has been great fun, but I also plan on gaining a theoretical understanding of it.

This next piece started out as a mistake. I was teaching my friend a song on the piano but had my hand in the wrong starting position and played four completely wrong notes. Although surprisingly they actually sounded really nice and I could hear the next few notes in my head, so I decided to play on. I came up with a simple four chord loop, recorded it on my phone and then went back to playing the notes I was supposed to, for the song I was teaching. Later that week I then sat down at the piano and worked out the melody.

Learning to Write Music Through Playing

I can now play all 5 movements of Philip Glass’ Metamorphosis Suite!

I started with the first movement back in May which I managed to learn in an hour. However, the latter movements proved a lot harder, particularly the 2nd and 4th as there are so many arpeggiated semiquavers that I just didn’t have the strength or stamina to play them. After 4 months of practicing technical exercises to build up my finger strength, I still struggle with these sections, but I have managed to successfully play them through a few times and have committed the whole suite to memory.

One of the most useful tools I’ve found with learning to play other peoples music on the piano, is that each piece is almost like a score study. I spend so long looking at the music and how the different parts work together and have noticed myself applying the techniques I am playing into the music I write.

I read an article that talked about how great composers learn and become great composers. One of the points was that they study other composers scores and learn from the greats that came before them. Well this is exactly what I feel I am doing when I learn a piece on the piano. Obviously the sheet music for a piano piece is far simpler in comparison to a full orchestral score (when comparing the same piece of music), but the piano is a great place to start, and learning to play it has taught me so much already about composing.

I’ve also been learning from Bear McCreary’s Battlestar Galactica Piano Book and have recently ordered John Powell’s piano book for X-Men III: The Last Stand. Powell and McCreary are two of my favourite composers, so it’s great to have the opportunity to learn from their music.

Street Piano Plans

This week I finished learning Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. It’s taken me about two and a half weeks to learn the whole piece. I feel I could have learnt it in a shorter time frame, but I limited myself to practicing it for just 30 minutes a day as I had lots of other composer studying to do.

I did plan on learning one piece each month, but I recently found out that Bath will be getting a street piano this summer.

Street Piano

I feel like this news has given me a new goal, so now I’m definitely going to have to learn more than one piece a month if I want to impress! Although I think it’ll still be a few years before I’m as good as this lady (Valentina Lisitsa)!

Why The Accordion?

My friend asked me back in January, “Why do you want to be able to play the accordion?” I told him, “Because it’s awesome!”

One of my favourite pieces of music ever is La Noyee from the soundtrack to Amelie, which is played on the accordion. I’ve listened to that track hundreds of times and imagined myself playing it like this guy:

So last year I ended up buying a 48 bass piano accordion. Little did I know at the time I wouldn’t be able to play La Noyee on my accordion because it was too small, I’d need a 120 bass piano accordion. But I’d already bought my 48 bass one so bought a book that would teach me the coordination and basics of playing. I decided to make it up after that. I’d spent 12 years playing the trumpet and reading music, but never learnt to play without music. I couldn’t improvise, memorise a tune, play by ear or make up a melody. So with the accordion I decided this was my main point of focus. I started playing around with 4 chord sequences and attempted to make up a tune. Success! After experimenting a lot I ended up writing a couple of short tunes and I never even wrote them down. I had made them up and played them back from memory. Next task: play by ear. I was listening through the soundtrack to Micmacs (another Jean-Pierre Jeunet film) and heard this tune:

Now the beginning of this isn’t even played on an accordion and even later on the accordion doesn’t actually play any chords, but I managed to work out the chords and the melody by ear. In order to do this I had to first work out the left hand and then the right hand, but I couldn’t actually play them together because the rhythms on each hand were very different to what I’d been playing so far. But no one ever improves by only playing easy stuff, so this was perfect for me. It took me quite a while but eventually I could actually play it, and with this new rhythm pattern which my fingers were accustomed to, I could try making up a host of other songs.

Now I’m in two bands and am working on an original song for one of them. My first public performance will be next month as I’m playing with one of the bands at an open mic night. I might even do a couple of solo numbers of my own as well if there’s time/space. Then I’m aiming to go busking around Bath in the summer. Studying music and writing music means I’m sat inside all day in front of my computer/keyboard so it’ll be nice to get outside into the sunlight and breath a bit of fresh air. Then next year I’d like to be in a position where I could warrant buying a full size 120 bass piano accordion, so that I can learn La Noyee and make my own video performing this amazing piece of music.

A Heavy Load

Last week I blogged about altering my sleeping pattern in order to get more out of my day and keep up with my music goals. Here are the reasons why I decided to do this.

where-lots-of-work

Every time I practice my accordion I always create more for myself to practice next time. I like to spend a bit of time improvising as this is such a great tool when it comes to composing. Most of my improvising tends to explore one idea such as a simple chord sequence and rhythm, and then coming up with new melodic ideas that go with this. I’ve also tried playing along to some of my favourite tunes and seeing if I can add anything new to the piece, or at least play the right notes. This combination is how I’ve been creating my parts for the 5 cover songs that we’re currently playing in the band which I joined. Each practice we seem to spend the last 15 – 30 minutes improvising to some simple chords and rhythms, but the rest of the time we work on these covers. As well as practicing these covers I also like to practice and develop the pieces which I’ve been writing for my accordion. I’m hoping to get them to a good enough level where I can play them busking in the summer. But it’s always good to have a few popular songs up your sleeve which people already know, so I’ve also started learning some solo accordion covers. Now this is already a lot of stuff to be practicing, so let’s increase the work load by changing instruments.

The piano. I’ve also noticed myself  improving on the piano and whilst I originally only practiced for 30 minutes to an hour a day, I can now easily sit in front of the piano for 2 hours straight. I’m still practising from the books that I have, but I’ve also been creating compositional ideas by playing around with different chord progressions and melodies, much the same as when I’m improvising on the accordion.

Then there are the online courses that I’ve been taking. I started out just doing one, then I increased it to four and now I’ve managed to get it down to two, which I’ll be keeping it at until probably around June. But that is not enough. I’ve got some music theory books which I’m also reading and working through, plus a tone of tutorial videos on how to use Logic Pro X, which I’ll be starting soon.

Now you can see why I’ve altered my sleep cycle!