Giada's Latin-Flavored Idea

 A lighter moment during our rehearsing of Twisted Tango at the June Student Showcase

A lighter moment during our rehearsing of Twisted Tango at the June Student Showcase

I love it when my students tell me that they've come up with some original music. Of course most of the time they do the "telling" by playing their ideas for me. And I'm always happy to listen. Anyway, I remember that being the case a few months ago when Giada was doodling around at the piano and played a musical pattern that caught my attention. I stopped my pen from scribbling in her notebook and asked her to "play that again." After the second hearing, I knew that she had crafted a memorable piece of melody . A new collaborative project was born! Over the next couple months, we planned and developed the musical work that eventually became "Twisted Tango." If you haven't already, take a listen now by clicking the player above!

 

Josh records "Don't Stop."

 Josh in studio after recording Don't Stop

Josh in studio after recording Don't Stop

      Josh, one of the newer students at Piano Plus, was at the studio earlier today to record the piece he performed a week and a half ago for our June Student Showcase (see my previous post). This end-of-year event featured 12 young artists who had the opportunity to play alongside professional musicians from the Rochester area. In addition to his ensemble playing,  Josh did a great job performing a featured solo. He's made great progress in a short amount of time and we're all proud of the extra effort he demonstrated in preparing this piece. Way to go, Josh!

Here's a sample of the work we did earlier today - a piece titled: "Don't Stop."

Student Showcase Success!

It’s hard to believe but . . . it’s already been one week since the students at Piano Plus Teaching Studio performed at the Rochester Academy of Medicine. Our end-of-year showcase featured 12 young musicians who had the opportunity to play alongside professional musicians from the Rochester area. All the students were featured as soloists and some even collaborated with me in composing some of the music. This coming together of creativity and collaboration had the effect of producing lots of smiling faces – not only for the musicians but for the proud parents and invited guests too.

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And although I’ve already said it “out loud,” I’d like to express my gratitude to some special people for the record. Thank you to all my students who worked so hard in preparing for the showcase: Bailey, Sean, Josh, Giada, Arav, Lucas, Max, Benjamin, Stirling, Shamitri, Pat and Javiana. All of you are my greatest source of continued learning.

Thanks to all the parents for choosing Piano Plus Teaching Studio and to Lily, Belinda and Ishitri for helping with reception planning, program design and photography.

Be sure to stay tuned to this blog: www.pianoplus.com/blog  and our Facebook Teaching Studio page (https://business.facebook.com/saw1music/?business_id=188062801724167) over the next couple weeks. I’ll be introducing some of our young performers along with audio samples of the pieces they performed.

Scales and Intervals Backwards and Forwards

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Scales and Intervals . . . Backwards & Forwards Tutorial, Part I

As promised in my last blog post, here’s some prep material related to chord construction. This information should help you better understand the upcoming video series about reading and interpreting chord symbols (see my YouTube announcement at: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3ISGCw3c-4&t=14s).

In this post I’ll be defining some important terms and will provide you with supporting diagrams and audio clips. In part II, I’ll offer more detailed information about intervals and demonstrate the actual “chord building” process. 

Okay, lets get started by defining some terms. You might think of them (and the concepts they represent) as the “building blocks” we use to construct chords. Here are a few of the most important:

Pitch – A simple definition describes pitch as: “The location of a tone related to its highness or lowness of sound.” Pitch is a subjective experience. Think of a chirping bird and a roaring lion. Most people would agree that the bird’s chirping is higher pitched than the lion’s roaring.

Tone – A sound that is played or sung at a specific pitch. Tones are either played melodically – when one follows another in time – or harmonically – when tones sound together.

Interval(s) - The distance in pitch between two (or more) tones. Intervals are measured in two ways – generically and specifically. In part II, I’ll offer more detailed information about both ways of labeling intervals. In this tutorial we’ll be focusing on the half step (minor 2nd) and whole step (major 2nd). 

Half Step – The distance between two adjacent notes on a keyboard. Listen to the first five notes of Beethoven’s classic composition Für Elise - you’ll hear half steps moving backwards and forwards.

Whole Step – The distance of two half steps. According to Steven Laitz, author of The Complete Musician, whole steps, on a keyboard, “occur between any two keys separated by one intervening key.” Listen below to the example of whole steps moving forwards and backwards on the opening melody of the popular song: Linus and Lucy, composed by Vince Guaraldi.

Scale – Wikipedia offers a fairly straightforward definition: “A scale is any set of musical notes ordered by fundamental frequency or pitch.” Ascending scales are ordered by increasing pitch and descending scales are ordered by decreasing pitch. Here’s an example of a descending scale that most people are quite familiar with:

The opening melody (first eight notes) of Joy to the World is actually a C major scale played backwards!

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To examine the half step and whole step pattern of the C major scale (see diagram 1a), let’s first reverse the direction of the melody and then convert its rhythm to a series of whole notes so that our focus is on the major scale’s interval pattern.   Insert diagram 1b  (C major scale with WWHWWWH pattern). 

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This major scale is sometimes referred to as diatonic – which simply means: “Notes that are in the underlying key or scale.” What’s really cool about this whole step/half step interval pattern is that you can use it to construct a major scale in any one of the 12 keys – even if you don’t yet understand the concept of key signatures

Try this out for yourself if you’re curious. Start on any white or black note of the keyboard and follow the WWHWWWH step sequence as you move from left to right on a keyboard. If you follow the interval sequence correctly, you’ll play a major (diatonic) scale that’s named for the note you started on.

Chord – In my day-to-day instructing of students at Piano Plus Teaching Studio, I’ll often say something like: “It might seem obvious but . . . reading and interpreting chord symbols is based, first of all, on an understanding of what a chord is.” Most references describe a chord as being made up of two (usually three) or more distinct tones. Chords can be heard when the notes are played all at once (block) or when the notes are played in a more sequenced pattern (broken or arpeggiated).

Listen to the audio clip I recorded for the introduction of the song: Let it be, written by the Beatles. You’ll hear block chords (played in the right hand part).

When you listen to Adele’s song, Someone like you, you’ll hear broken chords in the song’s introduction. Here’s a short audio clip I recorded:

Although these last two examples highlighted the use of either a block or broken style of chord playing, it's often the case that both types get used within the same piece of music. Just listen closely and you'll hear.

Well, that’s all for now. As mentioned previously, I’ll be elaborating about intervals and demonstrate how chords are built in part II of this tutorial. In addition, we’ll explore some basic concepts of harmony. Got any questions or comments? Please feel free to leave your feedback below. Thanks for stopping by and stay tuned!

Scales and Intervals . . . Backwards and Forwards

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Last week I posted an announcement video on this website and my Youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3ISGCw3c-4) about a series of upcoming educational videos that I’ll be offering about chord symbol reading.

While creating the content for the first episode, I realized that something was missing. That something had to do with basic chord construction knowledge. Now . . I understand that some of you guys won’t require this prep material. For those of you, however, with less knowledge about chord building, this information will allow you to better understand the videos that follow.

The title for this prep material is: Scales and Intervals . . Backwards and Forwards. Along with written explanations and diagrams on the blog, I’ll include listening examples to help bring the theoretical concepts to life and reinforce the learning. So . . . stay tuned.

Discover your music-making potential right here with me. I'm Scott Wright - thanks for stopping by at Piano Plus Teaching Studio.

Chord Symbols Video Tutorials Announcement

If you learned the traditional way of reading music and you’re curious to learn another approach – one that will allow you to experience more freedom and variety in your playing – Watch this short video to learn more about what’s in store at my studio. Here’s what’s happening . . . 

Over the next couple months, I’ll be posting a series of brief videos that offer instruction about how to read chord symbols. Some of the topics will include: chord types, chord positions (inversions), voice-leading and basic chord progressions.

In addition to helping improve your playing skills, these instructional videos are designed to establish a starting place for learning how to improvise and compose. So, if creative music-making is a priority for you, be sure to stay tuned to my blog and Youtube channel (Pianoplus.com).

Discover your music-making potential right here with me. I’m Scott Wright – thanks for stopping by Piano Plus Teaching Studio.

Piano Plus cello recording session (Part 2)

Part 1

Last month, I introduced the readers of my blog to a recording project that two of my students participated in. This post continues the story by inviting you to listen in on part of the recording session (see video below) and to request your feedback.

A little background

Last fall, Justin (pictured below) expressed an interest in performing a piece I had just written for solo piano. Since we happened to be in the planning stages of a new project series (Piano Plus 1), I suggested that we pair the piano for this particular song with cello.

 Clockwise from left: Me, Justin & Elise discussing "Trance" during our recording session.

Clockwise from left: Me, Justin & Elise discussing "Trance" during our recording session.

This decision actually ended up serving a double benefit. First, Justin gained some valuable playing experience (this was his first time performing with another highly skilled musician in a professional recording studio). Second, the singing sound of the cello ended up being the perfect choice to showcase one of the main melodies of the song.

How'd it go? 

All in all, we were really happy with the results. We all learned something new and had a lot of fun in the process. Okay, so . . . end of story and on to the next project, right? Well, not quite.

Feedback from others

Turns out that many of the people who have listened to this song like to comment on how they imagine the music supporting a picture theme or soundtrack. These thoughts and opinions have tended to sound something like . . . "You know, this music reminds me of __________." . .  OR . .  "I could really hear this music going with __________."

Feedback from you?

Long story short - The feedback of others gave us the idea to scout for even more feedback! Seriously though, we're hoping that your thoughts and opinions might offer us some clues about selecting a visual theme to use for our new "extended" music project.

It all starts with listening

No need to decide about providing feedback at this point - we'd ask that you simply watch and listen to the short video below. You'll notice a series of questions on the screen that will (hopefully) prompt your powers of imagination.  Enjoy!

Our Goal

As you might have already guessed, our goal is to combine a series of photographs with the full-length audio recording from this session (about four and a half minutes in length). Obviously, we're most interested in selecting images that, in our opinion, best capture the essence of this original music.

If you'd like to Participate . . .

Great! If you're interested in sharing your thoughts about the video you just watched, we'd love to hear from you! Please complete the contact form on this page ("Request more Information") or leave your comments below. Thanks!

Our Thanks

Once again, we'd like to express our thanks to cellist Elise Hughey and sound engineer Marc Webster for all their help on this project. You guys rock!