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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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#11 Tortellini

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Posted 26 February 2019 - 14:30

You might also find Bill Hilton's Youtube channel and book useful.


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#12 David Garner

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Posted 27 February 2019 - 21:51

Hi All

 

Many thanks for the extensive replies which I've really only just now have had time to go through and study closely. i'll try to respond to the points in turn ... apologies if I miss anyonoe out - all comments I've received have been very much appreciated.

 

I'll go through the recommendations in reverse order! 

 

Bill Hilton's book - I recently bought this, and also his one on cocktail piano which is another style I'm interested in. I've only had the briefest of flick throughs (was away on business for the last 10 days) and am not sure the "style" is going to be me. There's a lot of theoretical stuff in them that I know already (I don't need to be told about diatonic triads and inversions and chord voicings) - and it's lacking in just practical exercises to get all these chords securely under your fingers in any sensible voicing, when playing from a lead sheet. Also his recommendations on comping styles are just - well - a bit bland. But there's a good chapter on 12-bar blues and boogie-woogie that I'll definitely dip into.

 

Keyboard Harmony and Improvisation - have added to my Amazon "wish list" so that's a possible one to delve into in the future.

 

The "jazz standards podcasts" - thanks, have subscribed and I'll dip in. Also the Dave Frank YouTube tutorials. The problem I have with the podcasts and youtube tutorials, though, is that I find the pacing to be so variable and constantly having to rewind and listen again to be frustrating. Also my computer is no-where near my piano. I'm much more of a book person. But thank you  for the tips.

 

The ABSRM jazz piano syllabus I'm not so sure on. I've already worked through Tim Richard's "Jazz Piano 1" book (and done his course at Morley College) so am not sure if that would just be repeating a lot of material.

 

About Eureka's  and Ellie D's similar comments "I'm similarly confused as to why improvisation seems to be a 'jazz thing' or an 'organ thing' only. It's a 'music thing'!" - I fully agree! Actually I fully agree and some books I do have but have not yet dipped into are Laura Campbell's "Sketches at the keyboard" which do - I think - treat improvisation as a "music thing". But I've barely got past the first chapter so far!

 

David Sudnow's "Ways of the hand" - many thanks - also placed on my Amazon wish list

 

The playing piano by ear by Lucinda Mackworth-Young book - also placed on my Amazon wish list!

 

Phew! So quite a lot of things and tips there and I thank you all immensely and will let you know which of those books/podcasts and the other tips and tricks you all advised me help. I do really appreciate it so thanks again and sorry if I missed anyone!

 

David.


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#13 Gordon Shumway

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Posted 28 February 2019 - 07:30

When I took up the uke I decided I didn't know enough about Jazz, so I bought a theory book called Jazzology by Robert Rawlins and Nor Eddine Bahha. It seems very good, although I never felt I needed to read more than half of it. It was the cheapest of many very expensive books on offer. Aficionados will tell you that something twice as thick and three times as expensive is the minimum you'll need. That will be your decision. I have read a lot on forums about improvisation while playing classical music on guitar, and the idea horrifies me. I'm not a composer. I'm not going to ad-lib while playing Bach.


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#14 EllieD

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Posted 28 February 2019 - 08:39

 I'm not going to ad-lib while playing Bach.

 

Why not though? I bet Bach himself messed about with stuff! One of the reasons I realised I had to play the piano was Jools Holland slipping the whole of Bach's Prelude in C Major into his "Bumble Boogie" in his New Year's Eve Hootenanny - wonderful! This idea that Classical Music is somehow on a higher plane and may never be tampered with - I don't know, maybe it's true of some pieces, but I don't see why classical music shouldn't inspire a bit of fun sometimes!


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#15 Gordon Shumway

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Posted 28 February 2019 - 10:56

 

 I'm not going to ad-lib while playing Bach.

 

Why not though? I bet Bach himself messed about with stuff! One of the reasons I realised I had to play the piano was Jools Holland slipping the whole of Bach's Prelude in C Major into his "Bumble Boogie" in his New Year's Eve Hootenanny - wonderful! This idea that Classical Music is somehow on a higher plane and may never be tampered with - I don't know, maybe it's true of some pieces, but I don't see why classical music shouldn't inspire a bit of fun sometimes!

 

He was both culturally acclimatised and specifically trained. And perhaps he was a poor example for me to choose. What if I had chosen Villa-Lobos?


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