Sunday, 12 January 2014

You play, what you think about

I have always been a strong believer in the idea that you become what you think about.  Some call it the law of attraction, others call it 'faith'.  Rather than name it, I simply describe it as an Augmented Receptivity of Reality... that which already exists whether or not you want it, like it or need it.  Once you set something in your mind, positive or negative in nature, if you repeat this ambition enough times, it becomes a habit.

Habits are what make a person; the subconscious mind is the stockpile of habits.  You don't leave your house without your shoes, and if you write with your left hand, you would habitually put the pen in your left hand even if you received it first in your right hand, and vice versa.  These are habitual actions which you do not ever imagine being opposite to what they are now; it would be impossible that you go outside without your shoes or write with your opposite hand, unless you forced it.  Forcing is not worth the energy, so it does not change.  Usually, this non-change is good because your habits represent who you are and there is perhaps no reason to change them... but I recommend that there is indeed a very, very good reason to change, or create a new, habit.

Albert Einstein knew this.  He said, "Your imagination is your preview of life's coming attractions".  Do you trust him?  I do.  What about this quote?  "Whether you think you can, or think you can't, both are right".  That was Henry Ford... he knew it too.

Rather than have you change your life, I would like you to welcome the possibility that you are able to improvise, and do it well, too.  Not only can you improvise, but you can improvise melodically, intelligently, with feeling and of course, Purposefully.  By adopting the principle of 'you are, what you think about', I realised that with the change of one word, 'are', to another, 'play', exactly the same results become possible.

Rather than sitting at your piano and trying to improvise, without really knowing what you're doing or why you're doing it, spend a few days reminding yourself, repeating to yourself, that you know exactly how to improvise.  There is not one melody in your head that you could ever dream up and hear inside, that you can't play on the piano.  Medical and psychological fact (do your research):  The subconscious mind does not know the difference between reality and fantasy.  Brainwaves, in scientific tests, prove (not give evidence for, but prove) to be the same in both thought and action. Therefore, you can't make up excuses!  If you think you can't improvise, you never will.

Only thinking about improvising is not enough.  You must become passionate and create an emotional attachment with the ability you have of improvising.  How would you feel if you could improvise for 5 minutes over Autumn Leaves or On Green Dolphin Street, without repeating a single improvised melody?  That would make you feel great, I'm sure.  You would play in complete confidence, without 1 atom of doubt, that you can indeed improvise.  You have enough knowledge of chords and a few scales, you know a few blues scales or can learn these things in a matter of hours and days, so it's not far off impossible.

The next time you go to your piano, listen to the improvisational lines in your head, which anybody can create (anybody can hum an improvisation, did you know that? Even without any musical knowledge of any kind).  Then play them.  Find them, repeat them, play them.  The ability is already inside, you just need to make your subconscious believe, absolutely and undeniably, that you can indeed do it... and you will.

Picasso said that he has two versions of every painting:  "I dream my painting, and then I paint my dream".

Wow.  Is he wrong? Do you not trust or believe him?  Was Ford wrong?  Maybe Einstein?

Try it.  And tell me your results.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Interesting Notes in Improvisation

Not only is the choice of chords important, but melodic notes are too; and not even just melodic notes, but interesting ones.  In this post, I'd like to highlight a few interesting notes (in terms of note value) and provide some kind of foundation for you upon which to discover and develop your improvisational abilities.

An interesting note is not simply a note which works well against a chord at all times, like a root, a fifth, a dominant 7th... it is a note which sounds particularly interesting because it is either an extension (9, 11, 13) or some flat / sharp version of these, or perhaps a flattened 5th, minor against major 3rd, etc.  These notes could be considered a little more 'risky' than the basic 1, 3, 5, 7 melodic choices because, whilst the latter can be played pretty much at all times, the others cannot, so it is important to know when to use them... and then how, without causing peoples' ears to bleed.

The idea is not to get carried away with these interesting notes and play them 75% of the time; they would become boring and predictable.  Rather, aim for 25-35% of the time.  They are ornamental, they embellish an improvisation idea, they do not 'make' it up completely.  Use with an awareness of their melodic and interest value.

I'll start with the 9th because this is the most simple and common of the interesting notes.  A 9th works with all kinds of chords: a major triad without a dominant or major 7, minor, minor 7th, minor major 7th, augmented... the general feeling of a 9th is to give a 'distant', 'floaty' feeling.  The best way to demonstrate the sound of a 9th against these chord types is to play with the left hand a nice simple progression of I, VI, II, V, and repeat...  Use the following chord types:  IM7, VI(13), IIm7, V+ ... In the key of C, these would be:  C, E, G, B / G, C#, F# / D, F, A, C / G, B, D#...   What you want to do is listen to the 9th in each of these 4 keys, respectively:  D (key of C), B (key of A), E (key of D), A (key of G).  These 4 chord types can prove how the 9th, no matter the chord, generally sounds like a distant, floaty chord but it sounds very nice against each.  Of course, this discussion revolves around using the 9th in improvisation, not in making the chord nicer, so the use of 9ths here would be part of a longer melodic line involving other notes.  It is now up to you to discover what flattening and sharpening the 9th does against each chord to see if you like the effect.  Consider chromatic lines, too.

The 11th works lovely against a minor 7th chord, but not well when the chord is major.  When the chord is major, use a #11.  The problem is that the 11th is the same 'note' as the 4th, so this 3rd / 4th at the same time clashes a bit.  Separate them by either playing a major 3rd and a #11 or a minor 3rd with a regular 11th.  The sound generated either way is serious, a little dark perhaps, and is a good note to stay on for a few beats whilst you decide where to go after it.  Alternating between a 9th and an 11th in a minor 7th chord provides a nice tonal quality.

13ths are also 6ths, but become 13ths because of the presence of a dominant 7th.  7+6 = 13 - remember that.  This is the jazzy / bluesy extension and would primarily be involved in an improvisation of blues progressions or swinging jazz numbers with not many minor-type chords.  Like the 9th, its quality is a little distant and floaty, but it's jazzy at the same time... a very soft, sexy note value which sounds very nice as the centre-note for an improvisation idea.  You can flatten the 13th for a rich sounding chord, but in terms of improvisation, use caution because a flattened 13th is the same 'note' as an augmented so the general quality of this would be 'going up' (usually a 4th) so if you don't intend to 'go up' (a 4th), stay on the 13th.  You can't sharpen a 13th because it becomes the same note as the dominant 7th, which is quite useless as you can imagine.

Taking your favourite jazz songs, be excessive with extensions for a few hours just to get used to how they sound... then 'work down' to using safer, more regular notes and only scattering these interesting notes where they feel right to you.  As a personal preference, I usually like to begin and end on interesting notes, rather than use them in the middle of an improvised phrase because this highlights them nicely to the listener without drowning them too much.

Hopefully you can have a little fun with this and let me know what you discover.

Don't forget to look at the various pages of my blog since this is not only a somewhere for me to write articles, I also have my compositions and eBook available from the top.

Thanks for reading once again !

Friday, 20 December 2013

My Writing

Two years ago, I started a novel.  I had the idea floating around my head for a few months but, never having written a novel, I had no idea where to start.  I read and watched advice from established authors and also read about the lives of the authors present on an official list of the world's Best Authors.  This gave me quite a solid introduction to writing and the minds behind great works.  My favourite mind and personality was Ernest Hemmingway.  He said something which I never forget when writing - " A good book is an honest book ".  I thus write with this absolutely in mind.

My current novel is 60% complete and I will publish it in the early part of 2014.  I write about it here in this blog for 2 reasons.  The first is that I'd like to get a little activity and buzz around the idea that a new book is to be released so that I have some people who would be interested in buying it (as with my jazz piano eBook, it will be set at a low price so it is available to all pockets), but second, because the protagonist is a jazz pianist and jazz features here and there in the book, so I think readers of my blog would appreciate it more than just any old book.

The basic underlying idea is that of positive thinking and how it could perhaps affect people around us when used Purposefully.  This idea is expanded upon through the use of two primary characters; William, the protagonist, and Juliette, a French but good English-speaking girl who is in search of some old sheet music so that her great-grandfather may hear the special piece one last time before his inevitable curtain of life closes.

The story develops and the pair do their best to trace this music, taking them to various places both physically and mentally.  I also explore the idea, the possibility, that positive thinking can have an affect across time.  This sounds like fantasy, but I believe it is not.  If you took the time to study the current state of universal quantum physics, space and time theories and time travel mechanics, you would discover that time is not currently believed to be a river but rather all-existing at the same time, everywhere, all at once.  It thus means that 'going back' and 'going forward' are wrong, based on current theoretical evidence.  Therefore, the idea that one may 'affect' another across 'time' seems more plausible since there is evidence of inter-dimensional connections; the 'multi-verse' theory, etc.

Fear not, my book is not based on physics at all, absolutely not one mention of physics and theories.  I am simply stating my case as to why the book is not, and should not, be completely taken as fiction.

In conclusion, I'd like to request that those interested or those who think a friend or family member may be interested, direct themselves towards the following link because I have, for free, posted the first few pages of the first few chapters (so, about 10-15% of the book so far) online to be read.  All feedback would be greatly appreciated.

http://www.booksie.com/literary_fiction/novel/danthecomposer/a-head-in-time/chapter/1

Thank you all.

Dan

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Playing with Emotion(s)

Various things in life cause us to act in particular ways; from one situation, we are led to another of greater or lesser significance.  The stronger of us are able to take control of these events and handle them into our favour... the others flow where the river of life takes them with no ability or even intention of grabbing onto a firmly-grounded metaphorical tree of assistance planted just within arm's reach on life's river bank.

When indeed we decide or are forced to stop and look back upstream at the route travelled, we feel a mixture of emotions: a combination of regret for missing those branched lifelines, and contentment that we chose to let the water's current guide us on a floating airbag of confidence and positivity, in the hopeful knowledge that we shall never sink below the surface.

Such thoughts physically affect the body.  We may find ourselves unable to eat, or we may choose to take up an activity that we had not before considered; both positive and negative things result from the act of 'looking back upstream'.  For me, I always turn to my piano and attempt to decipher my thoughts and feelings upon the ivories.  The purpose of this posting is to share my thought processes and encourage the reader to approach their piano in a similar vein.

I begin with the promotion of a great, regrettably largely unknown French virtuoso by the name of Samson Fran├žois, who coincidentally died on Liszt's birthday, 22 October.  I encourage you to listen to his playing, but the purpose of my mentioning him is that he provided the greatest advice I think anybody could give a musician, pianist or other:  "It must be that there is never the impression of being obliged to play the next note".

You can hear that here.


In combining this excellent advice with your own reasons of playing a piece of music, or even in improvisation, you will start to sound like a true Purposeful Pianist.

When one wishes to apply feeling and emotion to their playing, the first question asked may be how to actually play 'differently' than usual.  It doesn't mean to play slower, it doesn't mean to play nicer chords... it doesn't even mean that you play with more exaggerated body motions and facial expressions (like some pianists I can think of.... no names).

First of all, embrace your feeling in complete silence, then sit at your piano and transfer the feelings from your embrace to the piano as if the piano is a living, breathing object.  Henceforth, treat this object as the subject of your emotions.  If you felt regret, show anger by using double or single octaves (both hands, or one hand)...followed by a little more silence.  If you feel sadness and regret, touch your piano keys as if you touch your lover for the last time; would you be violent, or would you touch as if you were sorry for what you did to them?  Would you feel happiness that stops you in your tracks and makes you want to wonder what you did in the world to feel this way?  So, perhaps treat your living piano in the same way you would embrace your new child, or a new discovery in your life.  Perhaps you have recently overcome a tragic past, through illness or loss... your piano is that loss wrapped in an acceptance and ability to move on... touch it with thanks.

Sometimes, you will want to play some fast notes, sometimes you will want to play broken arpeggios...other times, you may wish to remain in the lower register to reflect guilt.  Confusion can be represented by a need for space, so do not overplay; introduce a chord or melody, and then hold off for longer than you usually would.  The piano wants to help you.  Allow her.

A favourite song of mine has always been "I Wish You Love".  Here is the song by Nat King Cole - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbU2ReM8rQ8 

The main melody begins at .40 seconds.  The words represent in a little way my life at the time of writing, so when I played this in my local restaurant where I perform, I don't think I have ever played it as well as I did.  I noticed the guests had gone quite significantly quiet towards the end so obviously something was transmitted correctly.  That piano could have sung the lyrics of this song given half a chance.

In conclusion, if you wish to discover a deeper style of playing, consider your emotions and follow the little steps provided in this posting.  I would be intrigued to learn of your experiences.

If I may end with a little push to guide you to the Compositions page of my blog to discover my YouTube page.  Also, my Jazz Piano eBook is always available and can be discovered also at the top of my blog.  Any sharing and commenting is always appreciated !

Best to all,

Dan