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.)

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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.

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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:

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(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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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And here’s the whole thing again:

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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.) 🤓

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:

 

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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!

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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:

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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!

Dorian superposition and the bottomless pit of melodies

So, let’s talk about modal superposition, shall we? I guess there were a lot of relatively technical (to avoid the word boring) posts in the recent time where I was mostly talking about scale practice and left hand patterns and whatnot — let’s take a break from that and look at composition.

I adore modes. They’re pure math that lends itself very well to the creative process (which is normally the opposite). They help you widen your composition framework and explore new areas. The cool thing about them is that you don’t have to master them in order to start using them. It’s kind of counter-intuitive as most jazz books assume that you’re familiar with Dorian scale in every key to such extent where you can improvise and harmonise without any effort. That scares a lot of people (me included), so they get stuck and spend years diligently running all the scales and memorising chord qualities, never really getting to the actual application. But that’s wrong!

You can start applying modes right away. The key is, it’s not about taking a particular Dorian scale and blasting it over a minor 7th chord at lightspeed. Instead, it’s more about picking E Dorian key and then adjusting your tools to match its colour.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

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Here, I chose to play the 3rd degree of the harmonised Dorian scale (the III∆7 chord) in different shell voicings over the tonic (which is the i7, in this case, represented by a simple 5th chord). The same pattern is played in 3 keys: E, A and D Dorian.

I guess I’ve already mentioned the usefulness of jazz chord voicings like 7-3-5 or 3-7-9 or 3-7-6 — you name it — but I’ll do it once again: they are great material for improvisation, and they are extremely simple to play, because all you have to do is just arpeggiate the shapes you’re already familiar with (if you’re not, practice them harmonically first, I’ve got tons of workouts for that plus there are jazz books).

So, by superimposing G∆7 (Dorian III∆7) over Em7 (Dorian i7) we get a really nice and interesting sound — and that’s already a starting point for a song or improvisation. Cool, right? You don’t need to master Dorian mode in all 12 keys (or — 30 keys, you geeks) to start coming up with great ideas.

Let’s improve the piece above and add some more patterns to it:

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It’s the same melody, only the left hand now plays full minor 7th arpeggio and switches to chord shells every second bar. See what I’ve done here? The right hand uses the arpeggiated version of the chord shells as the material for the melody, and the left hand plays the same shells harmonically as an accompaniment. Check out how it sounds:

 

Fun fact: one of the tracks from my coming piano EP is based on this workout, so — stay tuned if you’d like to hear the full version! 🤓 (In the meantime, you might want to check out my new album that landed just two days ago.)

That’s it for today, wishing you a nice and productive week, practice hard, harmonise till it hurts, talk to you next time! 🤙🏻

Piano practice (1h 45m)

Scale studies

  • All Lydian scales
  • All Ionian scales
  • C, F, Bb Lydian in grand form
  • All Lydian scales over moving Lydian DNA
  • Dissecting Phrygian scales over arpeggiated inversions (E, A, D, G) — sheet music link coming soon

Jazz voicings + left hand

  • iim9 — V13 — I∆9 | iiø — V7b9 — im9 (format 2) from Jazz Piano Voicings (C thru F#). Left hand:
    • Blocks
    • 10ths + octave blocks + b7-1-5 run on iiø

Improvisation

  • Minor blues scale — quick recap in all keys

How to practice modal scales in all keys and not slip into practicing mindfulness

I love modal scales. I mean, technically, all scales are modal, but you know what I mean. There is just no such things as standard fingering for C Dorian or D Phrygian, which means, you’re pretty much free to invent your own without feeling “incorrect”, plus — the sound of the full scale, when you play it, is not that beat-up solfège drill (compared to major or minor), so it does not immediately evoke in your mind depressing images of conservatory class full of virtuoso players where even the worst one is ≈1039 times better than you.

But, as always, I find mechanical scale runs a bit of a shit approach. It’s great for learning fingerings, but as soon as fingerings are there, you better add some thought process.

One way is to run scale against the common progression of the mode (aka modal DNA), for example, i — IV7 for Dorian here:

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I tend to add bits of improv as well.

Next, you can take modal DNA and break it into intervallic patterns — for example, my favourite — broken 10ths:

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This way you can also work on hand independency. And, of course, get familiar with modal scale degrees! IV7 of F Dorian? Bam — Bb! Plus, it sounds super nice.

Another slightly more academic way to jazz up the one-hand modal scale practice is to play the scales as you normally would, but instead of doing it to a root chord, change the chords that you play with the left hand to the next scale degree as you switch keys. So, you go: E Phrygian to i, A Phrygian to bII∆7, D Phrygian to bIII7, etc.

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It’s pretty tricky if you think of it, as you have to keep in mind both key signature and modal formula (or harmonise on the fly). But on the plus side — you (kind of) get rid of this awful sound of endless transposition. You know? I hate it. E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E… Now same shit up the fourth… A-Bb-C-D— 😖 I want every key to sound different! I mean, I know it’s not the case — but this hack will get you close enough to not to get lulled into meditative state. (Unless it’s what you’re using your practice time for! 😄)

I’ll come back with even less boring scale runs soon. Harmonise ’till it hurts! 🤙🏻

Practicing arpeggios and extensions in modal context

I love combining different workouts in one so that I don’t spend two hours just doing arpeggios and then another two hours trying to make them work with right hand patterns. My approach is to work on both hands at the same time by putting emphasis on one of them and keeping the second busy with something super simple and minimally technical, yet still meaningful in terms of theory. But, there’s also a possibility to pack one more thing in an exercise — and that’s when you make it modal!

For this one a picked the classic Mixolydian progression: I7 — bVII∆7 and played it it using 7th chord arpeggios with left hand and doubled intervals in the right.

Stuff I improve while practicing this:

  • Modal DNA
  • Arpeggios
  • Diatonic intervals

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Sure enough, you can transpose it to any key or apply to any modal progression like Dorian i — IV7 or Phrygian i — bII∆7, etc.

Piano day (1h 40m)

Jazz voicings + left hand

  • Dominant +13 to Major +9 w/ harmonic 6ths and 9ths in LH
  • Fourthy modal structures over blanket scale — “Jazz Improvisation for Keyboard Players”, Dan Haerle (Book 2, Lesson 7) ⭐️
    • Blocks
    • Arpeggiated
      • C Dorian
      • C Lydian
  • 7-3-5 modal structures over G Mixo blanket scale
  • Alternating modal voicings over constant phrase

Scale studies

  • Whole-tone — getting to know the scale / improv over augmented chords in C through Bb

Comping

  • Crazy (Gnarls Barkley) — C, Bb
    • RH — inversions: R, 1, 2
    • LH — broken 10ths, 1-5 shells