So yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything on this blog, hasn’t it? Of course, it doesn’t mean I haven’t been practicing all this time. I have — profoundly, frenetically, exhaustingly, desperately, stubbornly, angrily, revealingly, understandingly, finally, productively…
I’ve been going through things, as you can see. Stages of that dumb process we all know under a benign name of “getting stuck”. I knew it was happening when I realised that I’m trying to extend my breakfast while involuntarily trying to postpone the beginning of the practice session — because I was facing the fear of not knowing what to begin with, also known as “hitting the wall” and — even more bitter-sounding “reaching plateau”.
I recognised that deserted, lifeless Martian valley the moment I arrived there. When I found myself sitting at the keyboard and playing the intricate left hand figure, repeating in all keys around the cycle of 4ths while trying to control the feeling of hopelessness the whole exercise was causing in me — I knew that was it. I got stuck. I hit the wall. I reached plateau. And today I am finally writing this post I’ve been planning for months while crawling across the desert, passing by the burned skeletons of the musicians who gave up, I was dragging my weak body like the main character of Jack London’s “Love of Life”, forcefully feeding myself with dissonant exotic scales and finger-twisting I. Philipp’s exercises that have zero music to them. I was advancing at the speed of one inch per hour towards the faraway hills behind which, I hoped, lay the ocean, and, feeble and exhausted, I finally got there. I emerged on the other end.
Luckily, during my desperate journey I kept a little diary, writing down things that helped me stay alive, and in the next series of posts I am going to share them with you. I cannot guarantee that they will save you from the Great Torpor when it arrives, but I’m hopeful they will help alleviate the pain and help you make your way through that desert plateau. I might probably also have used the trendy phrase “flatten the curve”, but it just doesn’t work in the context of plateau.
Expect some new material soon! And in the meantime — feel free to listen to my new album that I released about a month ago. It’s on my SoundCloud and like,everywhere. Now, practice! 👉🏻
Hey, what’s going on people? I’m so sorry to have left this blog in the free flight mode for over a month now. Doesn’t mean I haven’t been practicing though 🤓 So yeah, I have a ton of things going on (and this is one of the reasons why I had to disappear for a while). I know this is a piano practice blog, but may I just share some of my recent projects here?
So I had a chance to take part in some scoring competitions and here’s what came out of it. (For the record — scoring competitions are perfect for persons like me who struggle to combine editor and composer skills, as, by entering a competition, you normally get access to high-quality material it would have otherwise taken ages for you to create yourself 🙈).
All of them are scores for the Native Instruments’ library trailers.
The first one is called Before and After Humans:
Those heavenly voices you hear here come from the NKS library that the trailer was promoting. I just pitched them a bit (and wrote the rest of the music).
The second one is the one I actually did twice — it literally had from the very start two versions that I equally liked, so I submitted my first one (20 minutes before the deadline, as I always do) and then, the week after the deadline was long past due, I went ahead and scored the trailer the second time. The first version goes like this:
And here’s the second one:
I overdid them both a bit in terms of length, so I still had to spend some time editing my own footage in order to make up for the extra timing, but with the gorgeous NI reel doing the main visual job, it went much quicker.
To complete my list of excuses of not publishing a new practice routine in a month, I’m going to add that I’m currently actively working on my new album that’s going to come out in 2020. Here’s a little sneak peek into what it will sound like:
Hope it was not too much for you guys to digest and somehow still relevant to the topic of this blog. I am currently organising my recent piano findings and will be back with some exciting practice posts very soon! Till then — harmonise ’till it hurts! (Not proverbially, metaphorically, okay?) 🤙🏻
Let’s talk about Hanon today, shall we? The man that lived way before internets and yet managed to give his book such a clickbait title that it is still among the most revered sources of piano exercises. Virtuoso Pianist. Who wants to become one? I do, I do, I do! All I need to do is just study these seemingly easy passages, be diligent, and that’s it, right? Sick! (That was me getting all 3 volumes after my first piano class and totally brushing over the author’s modest side-note about first results being noticeable after 10 years of focused practice.)
Well, Hanon is indeed awesome and absolutely timeless. I enjoy playing these exercises on piano and on bass as well (low-end folk — in case it was an “aha” moment — you’re welcome). There are two different approaches to Hanon books: first is purely mechanical and linear: “I’m going to play these exercises every day until I vomit, and after that, I’m going to persevere”. This is fairly counterproductive and quite miserable. By the time you’re virtuoso, chances are you’re deeply screwed in terms of mental health. Then there’s a second approach (my choice): viewing Hanon exercises as a framework or a huge box of Lego blocks that you can fiddle around with any way you want and use them to build your practice in the most musical way possible — possibly also slipping into composition. To put it bluntly, it’s about making the monotony ane mechanisticity your bitches as opposed to being their bitch on your 10-year path to the virtuoso status.
Here’s how it works for me.
This is my favourite exercise from the Book 1, it is numbered 31 and has a little note that says “1-2-3-4-5, and extensions”. My favourite part about it is its sound. The two descending patterns played at a third, simultaneously moving up the scale, just sound freaking marvellous.
But that’s just the basic preset. What are we going to do with it? Personally, I enjoy transposing Hanon. It feels super awkward and might be very frustrating at first, but, if you think of it, it is an extremely effective way to learn the scale. Much more effective then a dull scale run or even a not-so-dull scale run. Hanon exercises are very much like DNA molecules — you only need to figure out the fingering for the first two bars, the rest is just logic. Here’s the same figure in F major, for example:
(FYI — it’s played an octave higher than written. Because I care about you ledger line haters! 😄)
By the way, if you’re too lazy to transpose things on your own, there’s a 1000-something-page book called “Hanon Deluxe”, in which it has all been done for you (it’s not a paid link). But honestly, it’s just a little bit of extra effort.
Then, of course, there are modes! Here’s the same Nº31, now played in C Dorian. I don’t care that the pattern is 150 years old, I love its sound, dammit!
Now, sooner or later playing the same stuff with both hands does get repetitive and exercise-y (although it takes much, much longer compared to the scales and arpeggios). What’s up next? Well, considering that all Hanon exercises are, in fact, nothing else than scales taking weird routes from the lowest tone to the highest, you can harmonise them! How do we harmonise things so they sound nice? We use fancy-ass left hand patterns! (You can’t imagine how hard it was for me to not to hyperlink the word “fancy-ass” to one of the earlier left hand posts.)
Here’s the infamous Nº31 played over the C major scale harmonised with 10th chords (in this case, I went from C to F, hoping that you’ll get the idea). ☝🏻 Play it 8va, people!
As soon as you enter the realm of harmonisation, there are no limits anymore. Quoting Trillian from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — you’re on a spaceship, Arthur — in space! Therefore, Hanon gets completely wild.
Here I’m playing the classic i — VI — III — VII progression beloved by a lot of cinema composers, using the 10th-based diatonic structures in the left hand and harmonised Hanon figures Nº31 and Nº20 that are played third above the root of each chord. Sounds fancy right?
Let’s break it down. You’ve already seen Nº31, here’s the Nº20.
It’s very similar and is supposed to be used for “extension of 2-4, 4-5”. But we’re not stretching fingers here. We’re stretching the concepts of piano studies. (How bold was that statement?) I played it at an octave and in C major, but I could have played it at any interval and in any key of any mode, right? Just got me another Lego block.
Here’s the bass pattern for my i — VI — III — VII progression that Hans would have sued me for if he were reading my blog, but he’s long past virtuoso stage, so we’re cool.
And here’s the whole thing again:
As you can see, both Hanon figures are transposed to match their underlying chord and they run a diatonic 3rd above the left hand line. As you will notice, it is also a killer workout for finger independence!
So, that was it on hacking Hanon, making monotony your bitch and becoming a virtuoso pianist in— an extended period of time. I hope it was not too long, too blatant or too geeky. Feel free to let me how your practice is going and whether you’ve managed to fit some of the recent stuff in your routine. And until next time — harmonise ’till it hurts! (Metaphorically, folks.) 🤓
Alrighty, I’m back from the little procrastination vacation during which I practiced as normal, but just couldn’t sit down and write a post about it, because there are so many new things going on! I’ve got some new books and came up with a bunch of wild left hand lines, but let’s start with something everyone struggles with. The finger independence! 🤙🏻
Of course, there is a well-known proven way to achieve independence nirvana and leave all trouble behind: just take your trusty Isidor Philipp and Carl Czerny books, put them on the note stand and spend some years perfecting each and every exercise in them — up until your brain starts melting from harsh diminished chord sounds and strenuous patterns. It works like a charm, the only problem with it — it freaking drives you crazy! (For the record — I love I. Philipp series and I do use them in my routine, but very sparsely, and I stop as soon as I notice nosebleeding.)
Being a huge proponent of the piano practice that’s also musical and meaningful, I came up with a couple of (relatively simple) independence exercises that don’t just challenge the fingers but also sound much less exercise-y. You can use them in different contexts and extend them endlessly. It was hugely inspired by the book Piano Technique by Ariel J. Ramos that I’ve read recently. Highly recommend!
Yes, just a C minor scale cut in groups of 3 notes and played by both hands with a 1-beat offset. I recommend playing it one octave higher than you see it in the sheet music, as it has the tendency of getting muddy. The next step would be to try and play something more interesting with the left hand, rather than just mirroring the right hand pattern.
That’s right, I’ve just switched to the minor triads. Here I’m playing the Cm scale runs over the Cm arpeggio — not really the full-sized 2-octave one, but rather the incomplete version of it. You can view it as a broken Cm 10th chord if you wish. And you know that I love 10th chords, don’t you?
Next improvement — upgrading the right hand pattern. I’m just going to copy the left hand and play 10th arp’s with both.
I have not mentioned, but I’m pretty sure by now you’ve figured that you can use pretty much any melodic pattern of any quality within this note grouping. Of course, the bigger the intervals, the trickier it gets! Let’s try something fancy:
Here’s the infamous Garner ballad bass pattern (normally used in the left hand, but who cares), played over the arpeggiated triad with the same 1-beat lag. It sounds awesome! (If you want to learn more about Garner bass, I have a whole post about it, check it out.) I would then go ahead and take me some II — V — I’s or a chord progression and play it using this independence framework. And then, of course, I would transpose it and throw it around the cycle of 4ths. And only then will I reverently open the I. Philipp’s Exercises for Independence of the Fingers, Part I— Just kidding! 😄
But seriously, in my opinion, it is super important for any exercise to be something that’s rewarding in the end — so that when you finally master it, you can enjoy playing it freely. Unfortunately, if you try enjoying some of the standard finger independence drills, it will most likely be very, very hard, as ther are rarely musical in their nature.
Okay, hopefully, that was helpful and you’ve found something new for your practice routine! If not — stay tuned for the next post, I think I’m going to share some fresh left hand hacks! Until then — harmonise ’till it hurts! (Not proverbially, people, keep your fingers relaxed.)
Hey piano fam, what’s happening! I’m finally done with releasing / promoting / advertising business I had to embark on in order to make the interwebs a little bit more aware of my new EP. I must say I am not exactly the biggest fan of the promotion part (to put it the softest way possible), but that’s something you just have to do, so yeah—
In fact, there’s a ton of amazing things I and my friends have done over the course of the last two weeks, so I’m going to take this opportunity and shamelessly share some of them with you here — although it might not have directly something to do with the piano practice, which is the main topic of this blog.
So, first of all, the EP is out on all streaming platforms, and here’s the link to all of them in one place:
If you simply want to stream it, just go to my SoundCloud, but if you want to get some extras, it might make sense to check out my Bandcamp page. For this release, I collaborated with an extremely talented nature photographer Anton Ilinski, and we produced the 30-page piano book containing the sheet music for all the pieces and also featuring Anton’s stunning images. Here’s a couple of screenshots from it:
It is available as PDF and is included in the downloads of both my EP and the solo-piano version of one of its tracks (that will cost you $5 and $3 respectively). I have immensely enjoyed putting this book together and I’m really happy with how well photographs worked together with the music.
In fact, they worked so well that I decided to go ahead and edit a short film using them and some archive footage from the 70s that you can watch here:
The track you hear in this video is available in two versions — fully orchestrated that you get on the EP and grand piano only that came out as a separate release. As I said, the sheet music book is included for free in both downloads. And just because I feel like it, I’m going to share the sheet music for this very track here for free:
Okay, so that’s what I was up to during the last couple of silent weeks, and now I’m ready to go back to focused practice and — of course — to sharing new routine ideas here, so stay tuned and — harmonise ’till it hurts! 🤓