Archive for February, 2008


What in the world is a “Talking Piano Chord Chart”?

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008
1x1.trans What in the world is a Talking Piano Chord Chart?1x1.trans What in the world is a Talking Piano Chord Chart?Share/Bookmark
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I took piano lessons from the time I was 6 until about 13, but didn’t really get into music until I had a chance to play piano in the school combo my freshman year in high school. The piano player in the group was a senior and had just graduated, and there was no one else good enough to play in the 4-piece dance band.

I wasn’t good enough either, but I was the best of the bunch, so despite the fact that I didn’t know chords and didn’t know how to improvise at all, they took a chance on me and told me I could play if I would learn enough chords to get by in a few basic songs. The idea of getting to be the piano player in a group of older guys was exciting, and so I immediately tried to find out how to learn some simple chords. I sent for a $2. chord chart that was advertised in a magazine, and the day it arrived I learned 2 chords — Cmaj7 and Dm7. That was enough to play “Frankie and Johnny”, and I was hooked on chords!

From then on it was a lifetime pursuit to learn more and more chords and then learn how to apply them in songs. And in that quest I have accumulated many, many chord charts, and even published some of my own.

But up to now, there has not been a chord chart that “talks” — plays the chords so you can hear them and explains the logic of how they are formed. So I thought “Why not? Since MP3 files can now be embedded in PDF ebooks, I’ll make a chord chart that talks and walks the listener through all the basic chords — 96 of them, to be exact.”

To learn more about it, click here: The Talking Piano Chord Chart

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What in the world is “figured bass”?

Monday, February 25th, 2008
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Figured bass is a type of notation that uses numbers to denote certain intervals or chords. It can be viewed as a sort of musical shorthand; only the bass note is shown on the staff, and the numbers written underneath indicate the general idea of what should be played in terms of inversions. Figured bass is very similar to Baroque era’s basso continuo, a type of minimal notation given to accompanists. The accompanists working with the basso continuo or figured bass knew the basic structure of the song but had to rely on improvisation to complete the entire piece. Improvisation is important here because figured bass only indicates the song’s harmony; the rest is decided by each musician, depending on the style and tone of the music and the other instruments involved.

The figured bass notation is based solely on the bass line. The bass note is shown on the staff, as usual, but underneath are a series of numbers. These numbers in figured bass notation denote the inversions with which the chord is to be played; any accidentals are written next to the numbers. For instance, if an F is shown on the staff with a four and six underneath it, the figured bass notation is telling the musician to play an F chord with notes a fourth and sixth above the F. And if that four, for example, is shown with a flat sign, the figured bass is telling the musician to play the fourth a half step down.

If the chord contains a third or a fifth, however, these numbers are often omitted from the figured bass. A third and fifth with any bass note creates a triad; the sheer commonality of triads led those using figured bass to get rid of the numbers and simply assume their presence. Likewise, if only one number is present underneath the bass note, figured bass assumes the missing note to be a third.

Even the bass notes themselves are sometimes left out of the figured bass notation to keep the shorthand truly short. If a bass note repeats itself for several bars, only the first instance of the note will be shown in the figured bass; after that, the only thing to denote the chord will be the series of numbers. Until it changes, the bass note here is completely assumed.

Click here for more information on music theory.

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What is a mambo?

Friday, February 22nd, 2008
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We have all heard the terms “mambo”, “samba”, “bossa nova”, “beguine”, “rhumba”, and so on, but it’s easy to get confused — especially for those of us who don’t come from that tradition.

Mambo is a Cuban genre of music and dance that combines traditional Cuban music with the highly Americanized forms of swing and big band. It’s a very syncopated type of music, a style that finds its footing in rhythm as opposed to melody (though melody, of course, plays its role). Mambo is always played in 4/4 time and uses an amalgamation of American big band instruments and those found in traditional Latin styles; mambo bands will typically have a horn section in a addition to the very percussive bongos, timbales and congas.

Though mambo is a decidedly Cuban style, it’s roots are far more European than Latin. The very first mambo was based heavily on English and French ballroom dancing music, and it was rarely intended for dancing. Though it certainly carried an inherent dance ability, early mambo was music for the sake of music; no dance had been assigned to it, nor did it seem like one would be. The early mambo thrived as a piece of music alone until the 1940s when Damaso Perez Prado, a Cuban bandleader, began specializing in the form. His version of the mambo brought people to their feet and led to the famous mambo dance’s creation. Prado is also credited with bringing mambo music and it’s accompanying dance to the United States, though the form sustained a bit of a shift as a result of the cultural change. Prado altered the mambo to make it slightly more commercial, more ready for 1950s American consumption, and watched the form become an almost instant craze. Prado’s role in composing and popularizing the form earned him the title “Mambo King.”

But like most instant crazes, mambo faded out of American popularity nearly as quickly as it arrived. Though the form is still heard and danced today, it morphed into a variety of different styles, including the pachanga, a mambo-like dance that also faded quickly. Mambo recently saw a resurgence of popularity in the late 1990s with a rock and roll based mambo revival, but that too was extremely short-lived.

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Research shows that playing an instrument provides health benefits

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008
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1x1.trans Research shows that playing an instrument provides health benefits

Check out the article in the Medford Mail Tribune this morning about the relationship between music and health.

1x1.trans Research shows that playing an instrument provides health benefits

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What Is The Difference Between Transposing & Modulating? Watch This 7-Minute Video

Thursday, February 14th, 2008
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I’m sure that you have had the experience sometime in your piano-playing life when someone asks you to play a song — but in a different key than in which it is written. It might be a singer wanting you to lower the song a step so he/she doesn’t screech. It might be a song leader wanting you to play a song in a more comfortable keys for a congregation or group. It might be a trumpet player looking over your shoulder and wanting to play along with you — but when he/she plays the same note you are playing, it sure doesn’t sound the same!

So….it’s your job, as pianist, to get that song moved to a different key — changing key on the piano. That’s transposition — playing or writing a song in a different key than in which it was originally written.

Modulation is similar but different — modulation means the process of getting from the old key to the new key. In other words, if I’m playing in the key of C, and then want to play in the key of Eb, I have to learn to modulate — move smoothly from one key to another without being too abrupt and jarring.

There are basically 3 ways to transpose:

1. by intervals

2. by scale degrees

3. by solfege — the moveable “do” system.

But since solfege applies mostly to singers, we will ignore that possibility and just take up the first two:

1. Transposing using intervals: If the new key is an interval of a minor 3rd above the old key, then all notes in the song will also be an interval of a minor 3rd higher. In other words, if you are transposing from the key of C to the key of Eb, which is a minor 3rd higher (or major 6th lower — whichever way you want to look at it), then all melody notes will also be a minor 3rd higher:

“G” in the key of C would become “Bb” in the key of Eb.
“E” in the key of C would become “:G” in the new key of Eb.
“A” would become “C”, “B” would become “D”, and so on.
All chords would also move a minor 3rd higher.
The “C chord” would become the “Eb chord”, the “F chord” would become the “Ab chord”, and so on.

2. Transposing using scale degrees: Each key you play in has it’s own scale degrees. In the key of C the scale degrees are: C=1, D=2, E=3, F=4, G=5, A=6, B=7, C=8. In the key of Eb, however, Eb=1, F=2, G=3, Ab=4, Bb=5, C=6, D=7, Eb=8. So if I want to transpose Silent Night, for example, from the key of C to the key of Eb, I need to notice what scale degrees I am using in the key of C, and then use those same scale degrees in the key of Eb.

For example, Silent Night starts on the 5th degree of the scale, goes up to the 6th, back to the 5th, then down to the 3rd. In the key of C that is: G-A-G-E. But in the key of Eb it is Bb-C-Bb-G. Why? Because the scale degrees 5-6-5-3 are constant — we just need to apply them in each key. What about chords? Same idea. If the chord progression on Silent Night is the I chord followed by the V chord, followed by the I chord, followed by the IV chord, etc. — then in the key of C that means C-G-C-F-etc., but in the key of Eb it means Eb-Bb-Eb-Ab-etc.

Modulation means getting between keys, so let’s say you are playing in the key of C, but you want to get to the key of Eb smoothly, without jarring the nerves of the listeners. There are lots of ways to do it, but the main point is that you have to get to the V7 chord of the new key. So from the key of C to the key of Eb, that means getting to Bb7. How do we do that smoothly? We look for chords with common notes. Since the V of the V of the new key would be Fm7, we have C as a common note. So we hold the C in the C chord, and move the rest of the C chord to Fm7, then Bb7, then Eb, and presto — we are there! I realize that may be a bit hard to follow with just printed words to follow, but if you saw it happen (like on a video) you would understand it instantly, I think.

Hope this has helped you understand both the process and the difference between transposing and modulating but words alone can be confusing, so if you want to SEE it done and clearly see HOW it is done, check out “How To Transpose & Modulate” Then it will become crystal clear for you.

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