Author Topic: No__78___Thoughts on how to tackle a new piece of music  (Read 408 times)

Peter Anderson

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No__78___Thoughts on how to tackle a new piece of music
« on: October 24, 2017, 05:01:37 PM »
How do you start to tackle a new piece of music?

Music is like a book, which we want to read.     Yes, it is musical notes and other hieroglyphics, just as a book is a whole bunch of words.     Those words are divided into sentences, paragraphs and chapters, which help us to put expression into their meaning.   Handled wisely and sensitively, they help us in our comprehension and meaning of the work in question.    It is the same with our musical score.
The notes, bars, repeats, instructions and phrasing are there to help us put expression into our playing the piece of music.

Musical scores come in a variety of styles or arrangements.     For instance, they can be very complex, written out in full, and probably for most of us, infested with far too many sharps or flats.    They may be a simple top line melody, with busker chord symbols.    In between you may come across a piano score, and so on.

The important thing is to find a version you are happy with and that suits you, but what do you do, if you can’t find one?      One way is to sit down (with a cuppa) and laboriously rescore the piece in a fashion that suits you.    Alternatively you can get some kind, capable person to do it for you, enquire of another member of our AR-Group, or browse the web.

Another illustration of the musical score is to liken it to a road atlas.     Sensible drivers, if they plan a journey to a new destination, before they climb into their car, will sit down with a road atlas, look along the route and see if there are any challenges that lay in their path.    With my first motor home in particular, I had to make sure there were no low bridges, very narrow roads or extremely steep hills to avoid.  (When we eventually sold it, the 'van was over 20 years old.)

In a music score, it is worth sitting down and checking it out, before we go to the organ to play it.

What do we need to check?  In the following Replies you will find some essential things to think about.

Peter

Peter Anderson

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Re: No__78___Thoughts on how to tackle a new piece of music
« Reply #1 on: October 30, 2017, 12:30:25 PM »
What do we need to check? 

In the following Replies you will find some essential things to think about.

1   The Key Signature


What Sharps or Flats are there?       If you plan to play the piece in that Key, you may want to refresh your familiarity with the scale, by playing a few runs, both up and down.

Check the last note, which will be an  indication that it is most likely written in the Major key.    If the final note is three notes lower than what you expect, it will be in the relative Minor key.

For example, if there is one sharp and the last melody note is G, it will be in the key of G major.   But if it ends on E, it will be in the key of E minor.    You need to know, so that you can refresh yourself in either the scale of G major, or E minor.

Knowing whether it is in the major or minor Key will also help you in selecting the registration that you will want to use to play the piece.    Use brighter voices for major keys and more mellow ones for the minor keys.

Peter

Peter Anderson

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Re: No__78___Thoughts on how to tackle a new piece of music
« Reply #2 on: November 11, 2017, 03:02:22 PM »
2   The Time Signature

Those 2 little numbers at the start,  i.e.  2-4,     3-4       6 -8   etc    tell you a great deal.

If you don’t know what they mean, you’ll find details in Peters Pearls No 73, Learning To Read music, and you can open that topic in a new window, by clicking this link:

http://www.ar-group.org/smforum/index.php?topic=2647.15

To remind us now, the top number tells you how many beats there are in each bar, which is vital to know if you plan to use a rhythm style.

As a general guide,
2   suggest a foxtrot,  a quickstep  or  a march
3   suggests a waltz
4   suggests a ballad or a latin
6   suggests a slow rock  or  a 6-8 skippy type of march

Of course there are many other alternatives.

Playing in time is probably one of the biggest challenges, that we all face.      You don’t have a hope if you don’t know how long each bar should last.  Pay particular attention to this before you begin.

To relate to our motoring example, (Referred to in the initial post above) it is like having a rev counter and a speedometer, but you don’t know which is which, and neither are you aware, whether the speedometer is in Miles or Kilometers per hour!     This reminds me of a time, way back in the 70’s, when my wife was driving my Brother-in-law’s automatic Jaguar, at a speed, far too fast for the narrow lanes we were on.   When I challenged her about her excessive speed, she said, “But I’m only doing 30 m.p.h.”   I replied, “I think you are looking at the Rev Counter, Darling!”   It was a big car, and as she is short, she had moved the driving seat forward.     So my Brother-in-law, who was in the back, was laughing and clearly enjoying the experience, but he had enough room behind her to kneel and pray.     At the speed she was hurtling along, he certainly needed to.

Peter

Peter Anderson

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Re: No__78___Thoughts on how to tackle a new piece of music
« Reply #3 on: November 17, 2017, 05:58:46 PM »
3   The Tempo Instruction

This is the speed indicator and comes in one of two forms.    That is either in words or numbers.

Most of the words are in Italian.   

So you may see instructions like

largo   or   lento                 meaning          slow
moderato                                                    moderate
allegro  or  vivace                                       lively
presto                                                          very fast


If you are not sure, then look up the word in Peters Pearls No 77  where you will find a useful Glossary of musical terms, which are listed in alphabetical order.   
You can open it now, in a new window by clicking on this link:

http://www.ar-group.org/smforum/index.php?topic=2898.0



If numbers are used, it will look like this



This is called a Metronome mark (I can confirm that this is in the musical terms glossary – just in case you thought it was a novelty statue in a city garden!)

It tells you the number of beats per minute.

In the example above that is 60, but it can be any number.     

If you are using a rhythm, the tempo will appear in the BAR/BEAT window on your AR to the left of the Display Screen, but you can set that rate to suit yourself.     It is a good idea when you first start to tackle the piece, to set this slower than suggested, which helps us with our accuracy initially.     If you try to play a tricky piece, or even an unfamiliar one, too fast, you actually programme your mind and fingers and feet to learn the wrong things, that create habits, that are hard to break.   

Better to start slower, get it right, ........ then speed the process up once you have mastered the music score.

Does this remind you of the computer acronym GIGO ?
Garbage In    Garbage Out.
Remember, the same can be true of habits.

If you practice it with wrong notes, you will learn it with wrong notes, so being sensible with the speed, initially, makes a world of difference …. beside a lot of other garbage,    oops, I mean input, of course.     Everything, that is outlined so far, is important to get a solid handle on, before you begin a new piece of music....and there is still so much more to think about.       

Read on.

Peter

Peter Anderson

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Re: No__78___Thoughts on how to tackle a new piece of music
« Reply #4 on: November 24, 2017, 03:16:00 PM »
4      The fingering

Sometimes there are small numbers written on or near the notes.   These are helpful as they suggest which finger to use to play those notes.    If you come across them, first check that they feel right for you.   They are only a guide.   
If they don’t feel right, then cross them out, and pencil in your own version.

If there is no fingering suggested, then it is like learning a new dance with no set steps.   Without that instruction, we would use our feet in a totally different order, and we only have two feet!

With 10 fingers, we can create all sorts of unnecessary difficulties for ourselves.

An important skill for us, is to develop physical memory.    When considering a new piece, don’t overlook these helpful fingering  suggestions, because if you play those ‘trickier’ sections with the same fingering each time, from the start, your fingers will play naturally, with apparently no help from you.

Don’t forget, you can practice your fingering skills on a table top, or even your knee, using an imaginary keyboard.    You can do this anywhere at any time, so use it when you are in very stressful situations …… like in the dentist’s chair!

Peter

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Re: No__78___Thoughts on how to tackle a new piece of music
« Reply #5 on: December 01, 2017, 03:07:05 PM »
5      The Chords

If you use Chord Symbols look to see if there are any present that you are not familiar with?

Chord dictionaries are very handy here, but you can also download Apps that work in a similar way.

The famous Kenneth Baker Complete Keyboard Player books, as well as many similar ones, show the chords in graphic form separately, with a recommended inversion.

I think it helpful, if you are not sure, to pencil in the note names of that chord above your music, or some other memory jogger to suit you.    But be quick to rub those helpers out, otherwise you will become dependent on your jottings, rather than the music score presented to you.

Again, as in the last post, you can practice, or ‘mime’ those chord movements on a table or your knee.    Don’t forget that chords need fingering as much as the melody lines.

Consider if there are any notes that you can hold over from one chord to another?   
Will you be stretching your hand unnecessarily?     So is there a better way, or inversion?

It is a good idea to aim for comfort, which usually equates to good fingering.

Peter

Peter Anderson

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Re: No__78___Thoughts on how to tackle a new piece of music
« Reply #6 on: December 07, 2017, 03:45:06 PM »
6      Accident Black Spots

Harking back to the Driving on the Road simile in the first post above, we are all familiar with these Accident Black Spots as we drive around the country.    They are clearly signed in the UK.    When we see them, we often wonder why that particular spot should be so hazardous.

In a similar way, when playing new pieces of music, these Accident Black Spots  can come in the most innocent looking guises.   

Look out for – unexpected sharps, flats or naturals.    These are collectively known as accidentals.      Note: Both come from the same root word - how punny can you get?

Again, these are covered in the Peters Pearls No 73 Learning to Read Music.
You can open that topic in a new window, by clicking this link:

http://www.ar-group.org/smforum/index.php?topic=2647.15

These accidentals create a sudden leap in the melody which can't be achieved, without a major shift from our comfort zone, often necessitating a thumb or finger having to be tucked under or over the others.

You can also come across a complete change of the initial key signature, mid way through the piece.   If you are not expecting it, these can really throw us off course.

Time signatures can also change, sometimes for just one or two bars.   

Or a change in the Tempo (or speed of the piece).     Like keeping your eyes on the current speed limit.

Repeat signs and codas need to be reviewed so that you understand how the music should be played.   This includes 1st, 2nd, or 3rd time sections of course.    Getting a clear route through the piece is very important, so take your time in getting the process clear in your mind.    Just as in the same way you plan your journey when travelling ahead of time, if you are wise, that is.

Also look out for Ornaments.    These are covered in Peters Pearls No 59 - Ornaments and if you click this link you will open up that posting in a new window, too:

http://www.ar-group.org/smforum/index.php?topic=2387.0

There is always the possibility of coming across a really horrific chord, like F#m9/E.     These can be real Black spots, that give rise to potential accidents.
More about that horrific chord in a later Reply.

Peter

Peter Anderson

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Re: No__78___Thoughts on how to tackle a new piece of music
« Reply #7 on: December 13, 2017, 05:11:58 PM »
7      Consider getting to know the piece aurally

I realize that we are trying to play the music here from the score and not trying to play it by ear, but it is an advantage to get to know the piece well aurally, before you start to play it.   In other words make sure that you know what it is supposed to sound like.

Just as a good guide book, or web information, gives you an idea of the scenery, customs, language and diet of a country that you are going to visit for the first time, so a recording of the music prepares you for what you are going to play.    Your choice of the new piece might even have stimulated you, because you heard it and therefore wanted to play it.

Hearing a recording also enables us to consider what voices, or registrations we might want to use.    Ask yourself, what sounds will suit this piece?    – orchestral, piano, guitar, choral, big band or some other solo instrument.

Starting off with a set of lovely sounds that are close to what you want is an encouragement to playing the piece well right from the start.   They also demand slightly different playing styles, so you might as well adopt them from the beginning.    For instance choosing a flute, requires a different playing style to selecting a harpsichord, or trombone.

So let the recordings inspire your choice of voices and make a note of them on your music score right away.

Peter

Peter Anderson

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Re: No__78___Thoughts on how to tackle a new piece of music
« Reply #8 on: December 20, 2017, 12:05:22 PM »
8      Short Cuts

All drivers like the idea of taking short cuts, or as my father used to say, “Going via the back doubles”.     I have never understood the origin of that phrase, but I’m sure most of us will know what it means.

The idea of short cuts, or cutting corners can be helpful even to seasoned and very competent organists.

What I mean is, we recognize what notes we have to play, but sometimes we need to recognize what notes we can leave out to make our performance easier without affecting the final result.     If you like, we can refer to it as the musicians sleight of hand!

First    The Chords

For instance, if a chord is too big for you to stretch, you can either break it up between your two hands and feet, or simplify it, by pruning it to make it playable for you.

To read more about recognizing the notes that make up giant chords and how to distribute them over your fingers, click this link to open Peters Pearls No 62 – Giant Chords in a new window:

http://www.ar-group.org/smforum/index.php?topic=2449.0

I didn’t realize just how much has previously been covered in Peters Pearls to accommodate this particular posting.   It certainly makes this posting simpler.

To get back to how we play large chords, there is no point in playing all the notes in a chord like    F#m9/E,       if we are going to have to wait for two whole bars while you get your brain and then your fingers round it.

Your listeners won’t remember your heroic efforts in struggling to play the chord, but only that the tune went haywire while you did so!

Now knowing which notes to ditch in a particular chord comes largely with experience.

But, here are some guides to bear in mind for this eventuality, starting with this simple rule:

When pruning any chord keep the basic core of the chord the same.

In the example above, namely    F#m9/E    the basic note is F#, so keep that whatever you do.

Also retain whether the chord is major or minor.   In this case the m denotes the minor.

I recognize that this particular chord is a bit extreme, but you will see how much simpler it can be to play.

For example,      F#m9/E     could be played using   

          G#  A   C#   E    F#    all over an E  Bass

Remember       F#m      is simply       F#    A    C#

G#     is the 9th.

While the   E    played in the pedal board, is the 7th

In the next posting we take a small digression to, hopefully, simplify those 11th chords to show you easier ways of handling them.

Peter

Peter Anderson

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Re: No__78___Thoughts on how to tackle a new piece of music
« Reply #9 on: December 27, 2017, 10:32:19 PM »
A digression to look at Minor 11th Chords

Some of you may not have wide enough hands to play this chord. So what I’ll do is give you the notes, but you have to come up with a way to play it, that’s best suitable for you.

There is no set finger position because you are not reading notes on a page, unless you are exceptionally gifted.        If you have to split the chord up into two hands, then do so. 

If you have to get rid of a note, do so, but make sure it is a note that doesn’t affect the sound of the chord too much.

Let's use the example of             The C minor 11 Chord         for obvious reasons.

Bass = C
Right hand = Eb + G + Bb + D + F

Note: It is a C minor 11th because of the F.

For example, to use an idea that you’ll find elsewhere in these Pearl postings, if we think of the key of C major, and depict the notes as numbers we’ll have this:

1 = C
2 = D
3 = E
4 = F
5 = G
6 = A
7 = B
8 = C (next octave)
9 = D
10 = E
11 = F
12 = G
13 = A
14 = B


You will see that the note marked with     11,     is the     F.

So if you play a    C major triad    with an added    D,    then you are playing a C Major 9th chord.

To be absolutely accurate, 9th and 11th chords will also contain the 7th as well.

So if you play a    C major triad    with an added     D   &     F,   then you’re playing a    C Major 11th chord.
 
Similarly, if you play a C minor triad with an added D, then you are playing a    C minor 9th chord.

If you play a C minor triad with an added     D   &     F, then you are playing a    C minor 11th chord,     
and this is what it looks like on the keyboard:



If you look at this, recall the numbers from the C Major scale, and understanding how to create a major or minor chord, you can readily work out every note in any complex chord.

I hope this all makes sense.

Taking the time to understand these large, complex, or simply big, chords, actually enables you to play them comparatively easily, when you do come across them.

In the final Reply we wrap up this subject, with more Short Cuts, exploring what notes we can knock out of a tricky melody.

Peter

Peter Anderson

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Re: No__78___Thoughts on how to tackle a new piece of music
« Reply #10 on: January 04, 2018, 02:47:50 PM »
Now let’s get back to…….
8      Short Cuts continued

Second       The Melody

If a melody line is too much for you to handle, maybe because of double notes or chords in the right hand, make sure that you retain the upper notes in each pile of notes so that you retain the essential melody.

If you leave out actual melody notes it can be a serious problem.     For example if you are playing the National Anthem, and you left out awkward melody notes it might sound something like this…..

   “God ….. our gracious …… God …. Our Queen.”

The most awkward notes may be able to be coped with, by utilizing the following:

Careful fingering
Extensive practice
Playing the piece a little more slowly
     
          and in extreme circumstances don’t be afraid to occasionally let go of everything else, and
Leap to notes that can’t be reached by stretching.   

Sometimes, just as you have to really lift your feet up higher to avoid an obstacle when you are walking, so you have sometimes, to lift your hand higher above the keyboard to hit that all important, out of your normal reach, note.

This wraps up this Pearl, unless any of you have or can suggest additional ideas. 

Please feel free to do so.

I have recorded a few more ideas in the following Replies.

Peter

Peter Anderson

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Re: No__78___Thoughts on how to tackle a new piece of music
« Reply #11 on: January 16, 2018, 02:49:52 PM »
Some extra thoughts, especially as we reach the point of actually sitting down at the organ to start playing the new piece.

You may recall the old game of Chinese whispers, where the message “Going to advance, send reinforcements”  ends up as  “Going to a dance, send three and fourpence”.    I did mention that it was an old game, perhaps, I should have said a very old game, as fourpence is even queried by my spell checker! 

Well, just as you can mutilate words and make them meaningless or turn them into something completely unrelated and silly, so you can massacre tunes.    Therefore, careful assessment of all these aspects that we have discussed above is important.

I recognise, that in practice, we probably cover all these things, but do it very quickly, because we have had much previous experience.

Clearly by now, you will have the new piece in front of you, and the ‘music’ may not be in the form that you would like it.    If you play mainly from chords, and your piece is written as a full score, you may want to pencil in, above the score, the appropriate chords.

A clever way of doing this, is to sit at your AR, methodically play the notes indicated by the music on your lower keyboard and, when you have them all sounding together, hey presto, in the second box down on the left in the L.C.Display Screen the name of the actual Chord you want to play, will appear.

Before we sit down at the organ, proper preparation is vital and there are two main areas that we should be considering, and these are covered in the next Replies.

Peter

Peter Anderson

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Re: No__78___Thoughts on how to tackle a new piece of music
« Reply #12 on: January 23, 2018, 11:00:22 AM »
The first vital area we must consider is the Key that the piece is written in.

I know we mentioned the Key Signature early on in this post, but it includes the KEY that the piece is written in, and having this in our mind at all times as we work through and play our piece, will save us making a lot of unnecessary mistakes.   Everything we are doing here is helping us to reach accuracy, even if we start by playing at a slower pace, than we want to eventually achieve.

I appreciate that if the music is loaded with lots of sharps and flats, or numerous accidentals, we might not have even given that piece a second look.    But knowing the key, remembering it all the while you are either preparing, or later playing the piece, will help you considerably.

Some find ‘sight reading’ tricky, but with steady practice, it can become second nature, just like reading a novel, or driving a car.

So number 1, check the key that it is written in.

e.g.    No sharps or Flats.     

                 Hallelujah!   

                     So probably in the Key of C major.

It also ends on the note C, so that may well confirm it.

If it starts and ends on the same note, that may well be the Key.

But don’t be fooled, because with no sharps or flats it might also be in the key of A minor.

Once you are confident that you have the right Key for the piece you are going to play, it is well worth playing through the appropriate scale, up and down, with the appropriate fingering.

If this is new to you, there are scale books available, that designate suggested fingering.   You can also find some of these free on the web.

Just as athletes, footballers etc, warm up before starting their sport in earnest, it is advisable to “warm up” your fingers before the big performance.    Beside this it cements in your brain the key that you will be playing in.

Later on I’ll indicate some finger warm up exercises, that will appear in a separate Peters Pearl, just be patient.

In the next Reply we consider a second vital thing to grasp.

Peter

Peter Anderson

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Re: No__78___Thoughts on how to tackle a new piece of music
« Reply #13 on: January 29, 2018, 04:47:38 PM »
Likewise, we did spend some time earlier in this post, looking at the Time signature.

I am sure that we all agree that the most difficult thing for us to master is probably Timing.

This is because we tend to do all things, including playing a piece of music, in the way that we can manage, rather than in the way the composer intended.

When you drive your vehicle, you slow down (hopefully) for those awkward or tricky spots, like roundabouts, etc.   If you recall, we referred to those earlier as hazards, which I believe is a very helpful analogy, that we can readily identify with.

The application for us from this idea, is to maintain a steady, even rate when we play.
 
If you can manage to play it right through at break neck speed from bar 1, then Hooray for you.   What you want to do initially is play at such a pace that you will be able to cope with the hardest sections of the piece, so that the whole rendition is very smooth, from start to finish.   

It is far better to play it smoothly, but slowly, rather than faster, with pauses or jerks.

As a result, our starting point may be extremely slow.    But that is not a failure.  Rather see it as actually a very good thing.    Because if you start out by playing it accurately, though slowly, you will eventually play it correctly at a faster rate.

Whereas, if you start to play it too fast and inaccurately, or jerkily, you will find it very hard to overcome these mistakes, later on.

Remember, we all learn habits much faster than we imagine, and that goes for bad habits, too.

So      e.g.     the Time Signature is    4/4.
      Hallelujah! Again.    We like that.      But recall exactly what that means.

It means we have four beats in every bar.     That is the equivalent of 4 crochets, or 4 quarter notes in every bar.

We count these in our head (but feel free to do it out loud initially if it helps you) 

1   -   2   -   3    -   4     -      for every bar.

There is more to point out in this area and you will find that in the next Reply.

Peter

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Re: No__78___Thoughts on how to tackle a new piece of music
« Reply #14 on: February 06, 2018, 03:14:02 PM »
If you like to use a Rhythm, then ask yourself the question, “What Style should I choose?”

To answer that is entirely up to you, but if the piece of music has lyrics they can be a good indicator.

If the words are about warm sunshine, golden beaches and holidays, then maybe a calypso, jumps to mind, or some Latin rhythm.     Other themes will give rise to alternative rhythms.  Try them out and see what takes your fancy.    If you use them regularly, then familiarity will assist your confidence.

If the piece is written in 3/4 time, then you need a waltz or some other rhythm to match that pattern.   You cannot force a 4/4 rhythm on to it, and vice versa.

An important point here, is that if you can listen to a recording of what the music is supposed to sound like, that gives you a tremendous start.

But what about the finished tempo?      This is almost impossible to assess if you do not know what the tune sounds like.
Again if you can listen to it played somehow, then that will give you something to aim for.

If the music gives you a rate, aim for that.     
Remember this:



Or you may just have some words, probably in Italian, at the head of the piece of music.

If you are not sure, what those words mean, then look up the word in Peters Pearls No 77  where you will find a useful Glossary of musical terms, which are listed in alphabetical order.   

Again you can open it now, in a new window, by clicking on this link:

http://www.ar-group.org/smforum/index.php?topic=2898.0

Either way, if you hit on a number for your finished rate, then don’t be afraid to start at maybe half that rate, or even slower, as your initial practice speed.   You will learn faster and reach your goal much more quickly, than if you overlook these important practical steps.

In the next Reply we begin to discuss Fingering in a little more detail.

Peter