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! 🤓
Hey folks, I’m so sorry for this long gap between posts again. There’s a ton of stuff going on — I’m preparing the piano sheet music book for my EP, editing the videos and just mindlessly cycling around the town (which should, of course, also be considered an important activity) — long story short, I just can’t carve out the time to sit down and share some quality material here (although believe me I have a fuckton of it in the queue). Did I just use “fuck” and “quality material” in the same sentence? 🤔 Anyway! This time is going to be a quick modal workout that I’ve recently used, and as soon as I’m done with my release, I promise I’ll get back with a fat post on descending motion I’ve been wanting to share with you all for a long time. But today, let’s talk about Lydian clouds!
What? Yes, this:
So what’s going on here? All I’m doing is layering the incomplete Lydian scale runs with the degrees of the 3rd degree of the same scale (iii7 in this case) played in triad and rootless jazz voicing (in this example it’s 7-3-5). Lydian is one of the favourite modes of jazz composers — unsurprisingly, because of its more-major-than-major quality that’s coming from the II7 and V∆ degrees. I personally like it a lot and use it very often in my compositions.
This exercise — as pretty much every other in this blog — helps you achieve several goals: memorise the scale degrees and understand how they define the mode’s nature. Plus — the whole figure creates a very obscure sound that could be easily used as an accompaniment device. Done with iii7? Pick another degree!
Same idea: Lydian scale from root to 6th in the left hand, Lydian V∆7 in the right. The beauty of it is that you can also adjust several things as you go to avoid getting bored: for example, play different degrees each time or change the scale range you cover with your left hand. Here’s an example:
I might say that I’ve intentionally left it you to figure out what degrees I was using in each bar, but I’ll be honest and admit that I just forgot to mark them in the sheet music 😄 So, go figure! 🤓
That’s it for today — I hope it was not too boring and too jazzy or too Lydian or — insert your term for something that feels a bit too lazy — but let’s just call it slow attack pad routine. Jokes aside — you might wanna try it on your favourite Serum or Omnisphere pad instead of the piano — you won’t be disappointed! Okay, going back to my release prep business — talk to you later!
What’s up people? Long time no see, huh? I’m sorry — I’ve been quite busy during the last two weeks working on a couple of scores (this one and this one) and preparing my new EP release. That includes some annoying promo job, but also cutting cool videos and animating photos shot by this extremely talented person. Anyway, let’s go back to the topic of this blog!
If you’re reading it for a while, you probably know my obsession with 10ths — the bigger thrids, the thirds that got out of puberty, or — as I used to call them when I was more involved in skateboarding — the ollie of left-hand patterns— I mean, you get it. The broken 10th chords sound freaking awesome, and when you master them, they take your playing to the next level and literally open new universes. In this sense, they are the ollie of piano 🛹 But like every cool trick, they get boring and dry if you don’t incorporate them into new, increasingly complex contexts. Luckily, there are endless possibilities for us to explore 🤓
Let’s talk about Erroll Garner’s ballad bass. Erroll Garner was an American jazz pianist who specialised in mid-tempo swing ballads with lush left-hand arrangements and insanely beautiful ornamental passages (that he played without even taking a single look at the keyboard, obviously). I was reading one of my favourite jazz books the other day, Jazz Piano: The Left Hand by Riccardo Scivales, and found a little extract from Garner’s composition that demonstrated his peculiar left-hand device. It was, of course, an immense waterfall of 32nd notes that I couldn’t play, so, as always, I did my little research and adapted the virtuoso line a bit to fit my needs.
What’s going on here? As you can see, it’s pretty much the broken 10th chord of Cm, but instead of 10th (that would be Eb) I’m first playing the minor 9th (which is D) and then proceed to the 10th. And then, to make it sound complete, I go ahead and play the major triad based on that 10th, which is the Eb major triad. And because it’s just not cool enough, I continue to play the 9th of Cm one octave above — which happens to be the major 7th of the Eb in the octave I’m currently in — which is, of course, the same D I played at the very beginning before the 10th. I’m pretty sure it sounds a bit entangled, but the idea is actually very simple: you take the minor chord, and you add a major III∆ chord on top of it, tying them together with a minor 9th. Man, that sounds beautiful!
And this is just the beginning! I’m going to keep developing this line and add some descending motion to it. Here is the pimped up version in Cm & Fm:
Same idea — starting on 1-5-9, then a III∆ chord built on the minor 10th, colour tone (pick your favourite — I used both octave or 9th here), and then a gradual descent back to where you started. I’m using the old trick here by revoicing my Eb chord as a 7-1-3 shell (playing 7th below the root), and my Cm chord as a 7-3-5 shell. One can, of course, think about these combinations of notes as completely different chords or even as individual scale degrees, but really, what I’ve noticed is that thinking in shell voicings could be an extremely powerful tool that helps you not to lose your position on the keyboard. Try it out!
Here’s the same approach used for two major chords (C & F):
Identical to minor, only this time I’m using major 9th, major 10th and my triad that I’m putting on top of the root chord is minor (e. g. C — Em, F — Am). Because you’re harmonising the major scale now mate! 😄 Plus, I chose to play just the root note of the V chord (as opposed to the whole triad in the previous example).
Talking about mixing major and minor — personally, I find these little injections of the opposite color (Eb∆ in Cm and Em in C) immensely beautiful and very satisfying. Playing such a line en lieu of a typical double octave or 1-5 bass creates ambiguity that might embellish otherwise dry and straightforward progression.
Here’s the excerpt that involves the right hand (playing sus4 arpeggio-based figures) in the keys of Cm and Fm:
I can play this one for hours (also working on my finger independence, actually! 😄) and still not get enough of this. So, definitely, thank you for inspiration, dear Mr. Garner 🙏🏻
As a closing part, I would like to share a little piece that is composed mostly using the above technique. Sheet music is available for download below.
That’s it for today, I hope I’ll be able to keep pauses between posts a bit shorter and get back to you very soon with some new practice ideas and studies! Let’s talk independence and modal mixture next time shall we? 🤓 Harmonise till it hurts—
Okay, I promised a new bass pattern — here it is! Today is going to be less talking, more playing things. I’ve noticed that I’ve started to get in a habit of going on at length about theory stuff, so it sometimes takes multiple paragraphs until we get to the actual technique — so let’s cut keep the intro short today! 🤓
Today’s pattern is called “8-to-the-bar bass”. I’ve found it (just like a lot of other wonderful stuff) in Riccardo Scivales’ book Jazz Piano: The Left Hand that I highly recommend to everyone as an endless source of revelations. The pattern originates from the stride piano era and is meant to be used as a part of blazing-fast virtuoso passages to make them sound jumpy and dancy. Its name “8-to-the-bar” is due to the fact that it starts a 1/8 note before the bar.
As I often do, I took the original line and adapted it to the slow jazz context (mainly because this is the style I mostly work in, but also simply because I just can’t play fast passages 🙈). So, here’s an original line from the Scivales’ book, played as a medium swing with some triad arpeggios on top to keep right hand busy:
Let’s take a look at the sheet music (here’s the right hand only).
It sounds pretty busy, right? But in fact, the components of the line are super simple. What makes it sound so rich is the fact that it actually spans across three octaves. Check out: we have doubled roots, octave above and octave below, chord tones played harmonically two octaves above and one more chord tone played in the same high register. Although it’s a lot of notes and a lot of movement, you’re still playing pretty much the same notes!
Here’s the full score in case you wondered what the right hand was doing:
It’s already plenty of material for practice (talk about all possible II — V — I’s, modal progressions and cycling chords), but since we’ve started exploring bass patterns, let’s dig a little bit deeper.
I have a nice progression for you, it goes like this: Gm7 — F — Cm7 — D+. Now, I’d like to play it using different left hand devices that we’ve been already discussing earlier and that you are probably more familiar with (like broken 10ths, for example), and I want to incorporate my newly learned 8-to-the-bar thingy.
Starting out simple:
I just want to familiarise myself with the progression, playing simple triads with the left hand and chord shells with the right. Next, I create the left hand line using two patterns: descending broken 10th and 8-to-the-bar bass:
Cool! Playing things one octave lower always works 🤓 I’m using the same 3-octave technique as in the beginning: doubled roots for mids and lows, chord tones on top. Gm and Cm in my progression get 8-to-the-bar bass, F and D+ are being interpreted with broken 10ths. Add the right hand:
I chose to use arpeggiated shell chord voicings as a right hand line, alternating between 7-3-5 and 3-7-9 variations. In my opinion, these two patterns (8-to-the-bar and broken 10ths) fit very well together, as they fill a really huge frequency range, thus creating a very spacious and wide sounding bass line.
Okay, that’s all I have to share for this time — feel free to take this progression to other keys or adapting it to different rhythmic contexts, or just try this approach on anything else — like, a piece from the Real Book maybe? Talk to you soon and— harmonise ’till it hurts! 🤙🏻