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Classically trained (G8+) and wanting to play new styles


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#1 David Garner

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Posted 09 February 2019 - 22:11

Hi All

 

I didn't really know what to write in the subject of this post or even where to start with my story and with my questions.

 

Some background: I'm mid-forties, have been playing the piano since childhood, and worked my way up to and including Grade 8 as a teenager. I then played on-and-off throughout university and my twenties and then in my thirties I took up the organ and - again - worked my way up the ABRSM Grades finishing with Grade 8 distinction around 8 or 9 years ago.

 

Since then I'd say that I have lost direction a little with my music-making. I have kept both the piano and organ "ticking over" by "maintaining" old repertoire, learning a little bit of new repertoire and keeping sight-reading skills (mostly) up-to-speed, but I just don't feel I've really progressed anywhere with music in the last 8 or 9 years, really, since taking G8 organ.

 

I always have been envious of people who go to piano/music shops and sit down and "just play" as I have never been like that - I need my printed dots, even if only as a crutch. I'm also envious of people you see sitting at the "public" pianos in central London - e.g., in St Pancras and Tottenham Court Road tube station - hammering out 12-bar blues and boogie-woogie and sounding really impressive. I am not (currently) able to do those things. I'm also envious of people who have excellent "ears" for music - can hear chord progressions and can sing harmonies with ease, and can even play by ear on the piano including harmonization.

 

Two years ago I joined a Jazz Piano class at Morley College in central London. I joined it as an attempt to improve my general musicianship - playing by ear, improvising - etc - not due to any particular love of jazz - and while it certainly improved my improvisation skills from non-existent to musically passable I still felt that I was essentially just reading from sheet music and with the improvisation was just following set rules rather than "hearing" in my mind what I wanted to play and play it.

 

Last September I joined a "Rock and Pop" band class, also at Morley College. I am enjoying this much more than the Jazz Piano class but - again - I am just relying on printed out sheet music for the pieces we are doing, and sometimes even writing out my own where necessary - rather than just relying on lead sheets and trying to improvise accompaniments / parts on the fly from the chords.

 

So, my question really is this: how do people with a classical background (by which I mean ABRSM or other exam board grade exams) "move" into other styles - pop/rock, blues, boogie-woogie - etc? And in particular, things like playing/comping from lead sheets, and playing by ear?

 

I went to the music shop today to look for tutor books on blues / boogie-woogie / pop-rock and spent an hour there flicking through them all but they all seemed to have one thing in common - they were all (or almost all) geared towards the absolute beginner. I really don't need to be taught how to play diatonic scales, or what a major triad is! Are there books aimed at the (likely adult) who has a classical background but who wants to move into those styles and - if so - any recommendations?

 

I realise the above is a big ramble but my excuse is it's the first post I've made in about 6 or 7 years!

 

I would appreciate any thoughts / help.

 

David.

 


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#2 mel2

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Posted 10 February 2019 - 00:50

Very similar story to my own, (even the organ journey) except I've never got around to joining classes for it. I started to work through the ABRSM Jazz from Scratch for an assignment as part of my MA but of necessity it got put to one side when I had other things to do.

Have you found the Dave Frank youtube tutorials? I think there's a month's work in each one -stopping the video every couple of minutes to experiment and take notes.
More formally, there are one or two quite esoteric books on the subject, I discovered; probably out of print and available in University libraries. I'll see if I can dig out the titles tomorrow from my notes. If you haven't already read them you may find some pointers within.
Much probably boils down to listening to and living with your preferred music, observing what it does, where the bass line goes, how to expand a ii-V sequence almost indefinitely and learning some jazz scales. There's a jazz forum somewhere online that is (or used to be) quite active and probably a goldmine of information, if only I could remember its name! That was the first place I heard of octatonic scales and suchlike.
You can tell I didn't get very far in my quest but it remains one of my ambitions.
It sounds as though you have learned a fair bit already -much more than me at any rate. Perhaps you just need to keep doing what you are doing until inspiration strikes and a new riff occurs to you and you develop a style and method of your own.
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#3 corenfa

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Posted 10 February 2019 - 08:43

I used to be housemates with a classically-trained pianist who was aiming to move into jazz. These are the things that she used to do

 

- Learn different chord progressions in different keys

- Learn the different types of jazz scale

- Learn the elements of different jazz styles- eg. what rhythmic motifs, what kinds of chords

- Actively try to improvise as in, make up your own chords to go along with a melody

 

It seems to me as an external observer, that if one wants to improvise in any way one first needs to know the base parts of the "language" eg. the chord progressions and scales, in this case. 


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#4 Clovis

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Posted 10 February 2019 - 12:04

There’s an excellent workbook on playing piano by ear by Lucinda Mackworth-Young.
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#5 agricola

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Posted 10 February 2019 - 12:44

I found the ABRSM Jazz syllabus very helpful, especially the Jazz Piano from Scratch book by Charles Beale which is aimed at classically trained teachers.  The really useful thing about this syllabus is it progresses very gently, whereas most Jazz tutors assume that you will be starting from the position of being naturally talented in playing by ear.  I found that once I had got used to improvising it started to 'spread' to works by Bach, Mozart et al !


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#6 mel2

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Posted 10 February 2019 - 17:33

Rooting through my notes revealed reams of dry academic articles, many of which will be unavailable unless you have membership of an academic library, and may make you lose the will to live if you tried to apply them.

 

The book I mentioned does appear to be in print in a revised edition, filtering some of the jargon. As you have done a course, you may already have read the book, so apologies if you have. It is by David Sudnow and is entitled 'Ways of the Hand'.

Another resource you may have already found is here:


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#7 EllieD

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Posted 11 February 2019 - 08:47

All good stuff, I hope to expand my abilities in this way too, even if just a little understanding.

 

What I do find frustrating is how "improvising" and "jazz" are placed together, while "improvising" and "classical" seem somehow to have undergone a messy divorce. I do believe improvising should be as much a part of any style of music. Beethoven, Mozart, Lizst, Chopin - of course they improvised (oh to have been the fly on the wall when they did!), but why does it have to be jazz only nowadays? It's valuable for everyone.

 

I'm working through the Lucinda Mackworth-Young book and it is helping, though I think I could also do with something more formal as this is good in helping you hear what's right but I can't help wanting to know why it works as well!


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#8 Eureka

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Posted 11 February 2019 - 16:13

I really like the "Learn Jazz Standards" podcast: https://www.learnjaz...om/ljs-podcast/

 

I'm similarly confused as to why improvisation seems to be a 'jazz thing' or an 'organ thing' only. It's a 'music thing'!


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#9 David Garner

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Posted 13 February 2019 - 21:44

Hi All. Many thanks for your replies and suggestions - I really appreciate it. I've been massively busy at work this week without much time to digest them all but will do so soon and reply properly. Thanks again! David.


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#10 agricola

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Posted 14 February 2019 - 21:13

Another book with a more classical approach is Keyboard Harmony and Improvisation by Kenneth Simpson.  


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