Hanon gone wild

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.)

Screenshot 2019-10-17 at 8.40.19 PM.png

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.

Screenshot 2019-10-17 at 8.46.18 PM.png

 

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:

Screenshot 2019-10-17 at 8.48.30 PM.png

 

(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!

Screenshot 2019-10-17 at 8.52.11 PM.png

 

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!

Screenshot 2019-10-17 at 9.08.53 PM.png

 

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.

Screenshot 2019-10-17 at 9.12.16 PM.png

 

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.

Screenshot 2019-10-17 at 9.25.40 PM.png

 

And here’s the whole thing again:

Screenshot 2019-10-17 at 10.57.12 PM.png

 

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.) 🤓

Practicing finger independence without killing the musicality

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!

Screenshot 2019-10-06 at 9.08.52 PM.png

 

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.

Screenshot 2019-10-06 at 9.09.05 PM.png

 

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.

Screenshot 2019-10-06 at 9.09.14 PM.png

 

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:

Screenshot 2019-10-06 at 9.09.26 PM.png

 

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.)

Lydian clouds for your slow attack pad

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:

 

Screenshot 2019-09-11 at 9.52.32 PM.png

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!

Screenshot 2019-09-11 at 9.35.13 PM.png

 

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:

Screenshot 2019-09-11 at 9.36.09 PM.png

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!

The sexiest bass pattern on Earth (so far, in this blog, in my opinion)

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.

Screenshot 2019-08-25 at 9.20.10 PM.png

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:

Screenshot 2019-08-25 at 9.40.04 PM.png

 

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):

Screenshot 2019-08-25 at 9.48.33 PM.png


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:

Screenshot 2019-08-25 at 10.01.39 PM.png


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.

Screenshot 2019-08-26 at 10.26.28 PM.png

Download sheet music as PDF

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—

Left hand study: bass lines as wide as Atlantic

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).

Screenshot 2019-08-06 at 9.38.03 PM.png

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:

Screenshot 2019-08-06 at 10.39.07 PM.png

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:

Screenshot 2019-08-06 at 9.54.05 PM.png

 

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:

Screenshot 2019-08-06 at 10.48.37 PM.png

 

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:

Screenshot 2019-08-25 at 10.20.09 PM.png

 

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! 🤙🏻

Non-jazz improvisation in 5 moderately easy steps

I’ve been wanting to talk about improvisation for a while — not that vague and obscure term most textbooks teach you, but the one you could start practicing right now, without waiting till your scale fluency is perfect.

My problem with the way the jazz texts teach improv — is that they either overwhelm you with pre-written lines that you first have to plow through in order to become capable of creating your own — or, they just give you the chord chart and a passing modal scale name. Which is fine, but, if you don’t have a good grasp on scales, the exercise risk to remain very shallow, meandering around blurry and watery 7th chords, which in turn might make you feel bored and eventually abandon it. Which is, of course, not cool at all!

I’ve been there, and, after having hit the wall several times, I decided to use a slightly different approach: start by choosing a progression, gradually develop left hand patterns and use chord shells as a basis for the right hand melody. Let’s go over it step by step.

Screenshot 2019-07-28 at 7.12.20 PM.png

My progression of choice is I — iii — V — iii in G major. Here I’m just starting to shape the bass line using my favourite (and probably a bit overused) starting point — broken 10th chords. Nothing fancy yet. Let’s go to step 2.

Screenshot 2019-07-28 at 7.14.22 PM.png

Same bass line, plus — I’ve added something to keep the right hand busy. It’s normally much more satisfying to make it do any kind of work from the very start (as opposed to learning both hands’ lines separately and then trying to marry them somehow). Shell voicings are my go-to, since they have a very nice jazzy sound while being dead simple to execute, so you can focus on left hand almost entirely.

Screenshot 2019-07-28 at 7.14.22 PM.png

This already starts to sound interesting.

 

Let’s add a bit more complexity to the left hand.

Screenshot 2019-07-28 at 7.21.02 PM.png

Here, I went from simple 10ths to a combination of different elements: broken 10th, regular triad arpeggio, 7-3-5 voicing and, finally, the triad played harmonically, i. e. as a block chord. All this makes the line somewhat more interesting by creating more movement in the left hand (you may notice that broken 10ths transition very naturally to the triad arpeggios in terms of fingering — although it might seem scary on the staff). Right hand remains unchanged, doing its simple shell business.

Here’s how it sounds:

 

Now, it’s time to make the left hand pattern beautiful 😃

Screenshot 2019-07-28 at 7.28.30 PM.png

What’s new here? A couple of things: first of all, I’ve switched to 8th triplets for the more animato sound, second of all, I’ve arpeggiated everything 🤓 The structure is now the following: normal broken 10th, broken 10th in 1st inversion (yes, you can invert 10th chords just like the normal ones), regular triad arpeggio, root played one octave up, 7-3-5 voicing one octave up, played harmonically. As I said earlier, it might look like a lot of stuff, but you will be surprised by how naturally these structures blend into each other. All of this creates a sonic texture that is not anymore a repeating pattern, but rather a smooth flow.

 

It does restart the same way when the chord changes, but there is a way to tame that as well — I’ve recently written a whole post dedicated to that topic; so, let’s not veer too far for now.

As the last step, I would, of course, bring back the right hand and play— what should I play? Well, I was playing shell chords up until now, what shall I do? (Voice from the back of the room: “Play them melodically!”) Yes! Arpeggiated shells or, if you want to get more science-y, shell permutations are the perfect starting point for the improvisation. From there, you’re free to build up on top of that and create a more sophisticated melody.

Screenshot 2019-07-28 at 7.34.41 PM.png

As you can see, I used different kinds of shells for different parts of progression: 7-3-5 for Em and D and 3-7-9 for G. Check it out:

 

I’m not sure if this is more fun that cycling Dorian scales over minor 7th chords and then all Mixolydian over dominant 7ths, but something tells me that it might— Anyway, I hope you found this post insightful and this practice routine will be helpful for you in some way! Thanks for reading and listening, that’s it for today.

Next time, I’m going to be looking into some new bass patterns (take a break from 10ths shall we? 😄) Have fun and — harmonise ’till it hurts!

Sophisticated left hand patterns: how to avoid the “arpeggiator” sound

I’ve got some new exciting left hand patterns for y’all! Let’s dive right into it. You know I’m a great fan of arpeggiated broken 10ths, right? This is the pattern that stride pianists of the 30s-40s have been using in their ultra-fast left-hand rolls when they got bored by stride bass and triads. 10ts are nothing less but 3rds transposed up an octave — but they sound much sexier, airier and just cooler. Think of them as 3rds with the make-up on. Or 3rds in lingerie. Okay, I guess I made it clear enough, let’s not explore this analogy further—

So, the 30s guys used to play them fast and mostly harmonically, meaning — as chords (that require a hell of a finger span), but the real magic happens when you play them melodically, i. e. when you arpeggiate them. You can then add other diatonic intervals and discover whole new universes of left hand patterns. By the way, if you’re lazy, I have a ton of exercises on this very topic for you.

Just like any other chords, 10th “chords” have “inversions”. And just like any inversions, 10th inversions have — ahem — permutations. If you aren’t familiar with the concept of chord permutation, read this post. Inverted 10ths come very handy when you want to diversify your left hand playing style. For example, if you have a pattern that goes: Cm7 — Bbm7 — Ab∆7 — Eb∆7, it would be a bit repetitive and stale to use the same broken 10th pattern for all four bars. By alternating inversions and combining them with normal 7th chord arpeggios (and arpeggiated chord shells) you can create the fabric that flows very smoothly, blending between chords in intricate and subtle ways, as opposed to robotic switches when you just repeat the same pattern in a different harmonic context.

Let’s take a closer look at inverted broken 10ths:

Screenshot 2019-07-21 at 8.16.15 PM.png

This is the classic 1-5-10 pattern for the Cm chord: starting on root (C), then on the fifth (G) and on the 10th (Eb one octave above).

Here’s how you can construct a unique left hand pattern using three different ingredients: inverted 10ths, 7th arpeggio in two permutations and the shell voicing.

Screenshot 2019-07-21 at 8.22.11 PM.png

And that’s just one chord! So, even if you’re going to be staying in Cm for a couple of bars, by having your left hand pattern flow like this, you’re much less likely to sound stale and static.

Here’s the C Phygian piece using some combinations of the aforementioned patterns to create smooth connections between the chords and make the whole thing sound richer and more interesting. The progression is the same: Cm7 — Bbm7 — Ab∆7 — Eb∆7, right hand plays simple arpeggiated triads.

Screenshot 2019-07-21 at 8.43.06 PM.png

I hope my new score highlighting approach improves legibility of the ideas that I’m trying to communicate here, and not vice versa 😆 Let me know if the old one was better! So, back to the piece — as you can see, I’m alternating here between the three ingredients we’ve already seen before, trying to create the uninterrupted line by starting each new bar on the closest note possible to the last note of the previous bar. It’s very much like walking bass lines, right, bass geeks? 🤓 Seriously, I guess I have to credit Todd Johnson and Scott Devine and many other bass instructors here for making me internalise this principle of voice leading — make it flow, make it flow.

Check out how it sounds:

 

Okay, that should be it for today, I hope it was helpful! See you later and — harmonise till it hurts! 🤙🏻