Playing by ear

For my record

The Piano Chronicles

Here is an interesting recent PW thread on playing by ear. The response that really caught my eye was from Gyro. Below I quote in full what he wrote. Something simple to start with and to build on. No music theory needed! 🙂

Practical by-ear playing is not that difficult. Starting on the C one octave below middle C, and going up the white keys, play the 7 four-note chords using every other white key:


This is the foundation upon which all chords for by-ear playing are built. (In some songs, particularly older songs and rock and country oldies, sometimes only 3-note chords are used: CEG, DFA, EGB, etc.)

Note that each of the 4-note chords above can easily slip into a second chord without changing the first two notes: for example, CEGB can slip easily into CEFA, or CEGA, etc. This is…

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How Teresa Carreño gets practice time

This is funny.

The Piano Chronicles

One of the books that I dip into from time to time is Arrau on Music and Performance, written by Joseph Horowitz. Just today I picked up something that I missed when reading it the first time around, and that is Arrau’s reporting of a comment made by the great Venezuelan pianist Teresa Carreño. She had five children with three husbands and a common-law partner. Arrau met her after one of her concerts, and she said, “Oh, with all the children we have it’s so difficult to practice. I have a loaded gun on my piano. And I have threatened all my children—if they open the door, I shoot.”

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Hiromi Place to Be (Easy Version)

Practiced in a rental room yesterday after sorting out some important paperwork. I took a while to get use to the piano (Cristofori). I did not enjoy the instrument and I felt it was difficult to express the dynamics of the music. It also took a while to get better accuracy and a consistent speed. I changed some of my fingering in LH to improve accuracy. Took a break to listen to Hiromi playing it and to goof around with some children’s songs. Went back to practicing the two pages. By the end of the lesson, I felt I was more fluent in it.

What? I have to match clothing for our family potrait?

 Design-seeds website is gorgeous and makes everything easy. My problem is that I don’t have a lot of clothes I have maybe 16 dresses and out of those, only 4 (plum/pink, kelly green, navy blue and black ) are in a single solid colour. Most are prints or strips, which I’ve read is very distracting. C has a beige dress, a navy blue dress (small flower prints) and a white dress  (pink giraffe prints). Mr TCM and A. has a lot more clothing. I wish I have more clothing so its much easier to do this. I manage to find something I could put together


Blue dress shirt for Mr TCM.
Orange/Mud long pants for A and a beige top
Navy blue dress for C
Black dress for Me (or the blue dress in bold diagonal stripes? I’m going to do stripes because I saw someone’s picture has it. It means it’s okay!)


Flora Brights

Purple T shirt, beige bermudas for Mr TCM.
Beige pants for A and ? Top
Beige dress? Or Pink Giraffe dress for C (Maybe pink because too much beige)
Plum/Pink dress for Me


Props:  Bubbles and something to eat

Hiromi’s Place to be (easy version)

I practiced this intermittently over the weekend. Pleased with progress.
Day 1: played through slowly with hands together. Practiced the measures I got wrong (especially the parts with rhythms or fast notes). Tried to observe notations. Noticed spider hands on my last finger.
Day 2: Repeated the problem areas.  Reduced errors. Improved the rhythm areas. Tried to imbue more dynamics in the piece in parts. Felt that I achieved improvement in the rhythm and accuracy.

With my progress I went to try the Roland digital pianos at swee Lee again. This time I focused on Roland RP 401R with a bench and the LX 15,  comparing the way it feels when I play. What struck me was that my acoustic Kawai at home is in pretty bad shape. Keys stick, out of pitch and tune, the key mechanism feels off –  even stroking the piano softly I can’t avoid a loud brilliant sound. It feels a tad heavy but not in a way that I am reminded of it when I play. When I played on the RP 401R, I felt wow, my old piano sucks. The RP 401R is quite serviceable for a low to middling piano. I tried the LX 15 right after. The LX 15 seems to feel  extremely pliable and light at the standard touch. At the heavy touch setting the keys turn weird and bouncy. At the light setting, it felt too soft and I felt out of control. I enjoy the ability to express myself on the Roland. But I do wonder if Kawai Es7 is the better choice because of the heavier keys. I have a strong dislike of the sound and I felt the keys stodgy and stiffer than my lousy acoustic. I have never played on keys that heavy. I suppose the right choice for me is the Roland. I wonder why I revisit the choice so often. As if it was the piano that would make or break my interest.

On family life

I enjoyed the personal eulogies delivered by family of the former PM Lee Kuan Yew. It was interesting to subtract the politics from the old man. Of all the eulogies, Dr Lee Wei Ling’s was the most well written. She has a great voice. Nobody came close to expressing the intimacy in the family, or the heartfelt appreciation to the people who cared for her Dad. It was so distinct from her brothers and her nephews, whose version of family life felt as if he was there but not really there. (Of course, there was his job.)
In re reading their eulogies for their mom, I felt that the brothers’ eulogies were a better read than their sister’s. It felt like Dr Lee drifted away from her mom after childhood ended while Hsien Yang tried to pull their family closer.

I wonder if who was the favourite child. Were they hard to manage as kids being so clever all of them? Did they have favourite parent moments? To do activity X, ask Mama. To do activity Y, ask Papa. How do they resolve unfairness amongst themselves – is Hsien Loong the mediator? Is Hsien Yang the party organiser? I wonder how they felt when they found out about their parent’s secret marriage from a memoir. I think in normal households they would have talked amongst themselves. (“Why didn’t they say anything? An abortion? TSK!” etc). I’m not in their universe, it strikes me as unusual that as PM’s children they were “in every danger of being spoilt, indulged, and led astray”. Why would they be in more danger than other kids? I had thought that in the matter of being led astray, they would be well protected from it – having 24 hour supervision from school to home. I wonder if it could be the rationalisation for their deprived and perhaps overly strict childhood. If they had friends, I suppose they are carefully vetted to avoid trouble. Personal life must be hard for them.

They had rifts amongst them – Dr Lee said she left home once. What about Hsien Yang who tried to distance himself from his father by changing the spelling of his surname from Lee to Li? This act to separate feels as if to accentuate that he is not his father. A clean slate for his own family. At the dinner table, what do they talk about other than politics and school/work? As the single sister, Dr Lee took on more than her fair share of filial duties. Are all chinese families alike?

Piano pieces (revised)

I’m using this goal described here

1. Expect a high level of achievement with each piece. Near enough is good enough, but near enough means at tempo and with flow and with communicative intent, not a bald reading-through without any sense of what the music means. So performances need dynamics, articulation, voicing and balance, used of pedal and so forth! If this seems too big an ask you need to be looking at easier material, not at lowering your standards.

2. Start with a slew of material. Let’s stick with our hypothetical Grade 5 student. Week One of 2013, assign two Grade 5 standard pieces (meeting your student’s expectations) but also give a couple of pieces from Grade 1 or Preliminary or even P Plate Piano 3 standard, along with another at Grade 2 or 3 standard. You’ll be assigning another two pieces the next week (probably both at the Grade 1 end of the spectrum), and you need things to be moving right from the start.

3. Explain directly and clearly what your expectations are regarding each piece, particularly in regard to time frames. For a piece of music 4 or more grades below their current exam-standard, tell students they have one week to learn the piece, two weeks if there’s some catastrophe like a house fire. Make it understood that these pieces are not supposed to take a whole term to master, that the whole point is learn these easier pieces as quickly as possible and move on.

I dropped Hiromi’s Sicilian Blue the rolling melody didn’t appeal to me.
Hiromi Sicilian Blue (easy-med)

Gymnopédies 1
Mozart Ah vous dirai-je, Maman Variation 2
Hiromi Place to be (easy-med)

Gymnopédies 2
Mozart Ah vous dirai-je, Maman Variation 3
Hiromi Somewhere (easy)

Gymnopédies 3
Mozart Ah vous dirai-je, Maman Variation 4
Hiromi Pachelbel’s Canon

Mozart Ah vous dirai-je, Maman Variation 5
In The Still Of the Night

Mozart Ah vous dirai-je, Maman Variation 6
Forest Gump Theme (med)

Mozart Ah vous dirai-je, Maman Variation 7
Mozart Ah vous dirai-je, Maman Variation 8
Mozart Ah vous dirai-je, Maman Variation 9
Mozart Ah vous dirai-je, Maman Variation 10
You’d Be so nice to come home to
Let’s Do It

Mozart Ah vous dirai-je, Maman Variation 11
Night and Day

Mozart Ah vous dirai-je, Maman Variation 12
I’ve got you under my skin

Additional material?
Keith Jarett – Shenandoh