Day 6: Gimme a Two.

Had a decent day today. Practiced for a few hours, and I can feel it in my hands. They are actually a little sore from all the playing this past week. Between learning and the surprise church gig yesterday, I’m a little fatigued, but all is well.

Made sure I played loosely today so I wouldn’t make things worse. It’s kind of like an off day workout!

See you tomorrow!

By the way, if you haven’t yet, visit my facebook for video of the gig.

Day 5: Detour

Well, today I didn’t practice at all! The good news is: it is because I had a surprise gig come up. I visited a church today on the day their pianist was out, and rather than have them play with a cd, I played for them live. This led to lunch, followed by rest, then another time to play in the evening. I was humbled by the opportunity to play in public for the first time in a few months. I put a short video on the facebook page, so head over there and you can hear where I am right now in my rusty playing! See you tomorrow!

I will practice hard tomorrow, and keep progressing-promise!

JCarl

Day 4: Roll With The Changes

Today I was able to work all the scales, as well as the circles of fifths and fourths. I then spent quality time on “Autumn Leaves.” What is fun is that playing it in different keys really cements the progressions into my head.

“Autumn Leaves” is full of ii-V-I progressions, and as I play it in all the keys the progressions just get stronger and stronger.

Now, if you’re not a musician, look at it this way: As you learn to ride a bicycle, you must keep pedaling–left, right, left right. At first you must think about it, but later you do it unconsciously, bringing forth the adage: “you never forget how to ride a bike.”

The ii-V-I in all its variations (and there are many) is similar. I must learn to play it, in every key, to unconscious perfection. As music is an art created in rhythmic real-time, I must do this without thinking. If I think, I’m already behind the beat. I therefore must practice over and over until I have it in my heart, not just my head.

In addition, as I listen to all the different versions of the song, I am not listening to the improvisation (the solos). I am listening to the chords as best I can. This helps me to understand how they are voicing the chord (which notes they omit and add).

And all this is very doable on the Casio toy, because I just need to hear the tones. Now that I’ve charged the batteries…

I am enjoying the journey!

Day 3: Batteries Not Included

Practice: 2 Hours playing, 2 hours learning/listening

Well, the Casio batteries died this morning because someone left it on. So I ran my scales, major and melodic minor in silence, focusing on form, speed, and accuracy. Then circle of fourths and fifths as quickly as possible repeatedly, followed by adding major sevenths in and running those in root position. Tomorrow I may invert them into cluster chords, but not sure yet.

Worked “Autumn Leaves” purposely in the challenging keys (like Gb…) focusing on the progression structures and how they flow through the song. Very, very tempting to try to change keys in the middle of the form, but I do not want to lose my attention as to the original form.

Sorry, no recording tonight. No batteries, remember?! By the way, I have no wall plug; we broke that years ago…but I am looking at a Yamaha P125 this weekend I think…

No excuses! Thanks for making this journey with me.

JCarl

Day 2: Scaling the Mountains.

If you can imagine mopping a floor with molasses, or writing a letter with glue on your fingers, then you can imagine my scales today. Practicing with the Casio on my lap, I hit all twelve major and melodic minors until I could hit them 3x perfect at 100 bpm. It was long and slow, but I got it.

After this, it was time to rock the circle of fifths again. What I did today was begin at each chord and go the entire round from there. For example, I began with C Maj., and went all round, then began with F Maj., and went all round, and so on. My goal tomorrow is to do this in minor chords. Yikes!

Today’s “Autumn Leaves” was Coltrane only. I could hear the form with the pianist, but Coltrane knocked me off the mountain. I practiced the melody in every key again, and played through the form in every key as well. Rather poorly, but there we are…

Tomorrow will come my first audio!

Practice time: app. 2 hours playing; 2 hours studying/listening.

Reading “Thinking in Jazz” By Paul Berliner. Love this book. Read it in the 90’s. Highly recommended!

Day 1: The Redemption of the Artist

I used to play the piano. Tolerably well, actually.

I once played for over five thousand people and often traveled throughout the southeast, as well as one incredible trip to the Mediterranean. I played for our troops and a few major artists. I even recorded at the Grand Ole’ Opry in Nashville. I am a nobody. This is not false humility, I am suggesting that there are thousands of wonderful musicians better than I ever was, and I knew my place in the music world. But there I was, living the dream.

Then I forgot how to play.

It doesn’t matter why. I own my career and am humbly thankful for what it’s given me. But the musical landscape has changed, and I am not going to purposely degrade my talent for any gig or any one. I am going to relearn how to play really, really well.

I am embarking on a daily journey back to Green Dolphin Street (that’s a jazz piece, if you were unaware). Though I was never very good at jazz, I am going to relearn it one standard at a time, beginning today. Within one year I will procure a playing position at a local hotel, where I will be able to enjoy playing once again the challenging music written by masters of the art.

I will blog daily, and will include, at least twice per week, audio samples of my work, be it horrible or beautiful, to show my progress.

Here is how I will do it:

1: I will remaster the basics that I learned while taking college level piano at age fourteen. This includes all basic scales, as well as all common jazz ones. It also will include all arpeggiation common to classical and jazz.

2: I will learn all ii-V-1 progressions in all twelve keys to mastery and with all inversions.

3: I will learn standards, both chosen and suggested, in all twelve keys using a method that includes both rote learning as well as studying multiple interpretations by legendary artists of the time, thereby influencing my style through different eras of jazz.

4: I will share my frustrations with joy, humor, and encouragement online.

I am aware that this will take an incredible amount of practice and study, with the sacrifices that go with it. I will remain amazingly thankful for my wife, who will work a full-time job while I homeschool my two children and rededicate my life to my artistic career. Her patience for this is due to her love for me, which has always included her love for my aural art. I am a musician. I can be nothing else.

Onward!

My practice today: All major scales–four octaves, purposely slowly, to reintroduce accuracy and form. I am, after all, seeking to play all phases of the piano better! I also rocked the circle of fifths using only the first inversion triads, again attempting to get back into the groove of visualizing the inversion and ONLY that inversion. It was difficult to NOT play the sevenths, etc. as I sped it up!

Song of the week: “Autumn Leaves,” a wonderful ii-V-I piece that is one of the most commonly studied tunes in jazz, I think. I listened to over ten versions online, from 40’s to 90’s and made myself play along just the chords in whatever key they were doing it in. Not really worrying about attempting to comp solos, just getting the form and melody back in my head in all 12 keys. I hate G flat; let’s just get that out now.

Total practice time today: about 2 hours on the board and another 2 in listening/study of ii-V-I progressions and the tune.

I am saving up to buy a Roland FP30, so today’s practice was on my son’s little 61 key Casio thing. What it is really good for is accuracy on the triggering of the sound. It really shows if I am not steady from finger to finger.

Tomorrow I learn jazz piano!

My 365 day journey begins tomorrow. Day “zero” and I am feeling anxious. Beginnings frighten me. But I will do this!

I know I could never learn jazz in one year. It is a lifetime endeavor, but my goal is to be functional in playing standards in a local hotel environment. With my background, I see this as a reasonable, yet very challenging goal.