Saturday, December 27, 2008

All the keys you are

Continuing with the famous tune 'All the things you are'.

Here, I'm hoping to motivate pianists to play things in multiple keys.
Here's a folder where I stored the tune in several keys. I played just the melody, doubled in the left hand. Playing with the left hand is a good way to memorize the melody while giving the left hand a good workout.

Then I played the tune 2+2 style, meaning 1-3, 1-7 in the left hand, while playing melody + 3 or 7 in the right hand.

Nothing really fancy here, but a couple of things are worth noting:
- Don't transpose on paper.
- 'All The things you' are uses a lot of 3rds. It's a good quick way to find out the harmonies.
- After a while, you stop thinking and start using the ear to find both the melody and the harmonies. "All the things you are" is a good tune because it modulates a lot, but uses fairly simple chords and lots of two-fives. The only 2 unusual chords are (in Ab), the C7+ and the Bdim. That's all that needs to be memorized really. The rest can be worked out by ear.

Keep practicing.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Groove Blues in G

I said I was gonna do the Groove blues in G this time.

So here it is:
Groove Blues in G

It wasn't that difficult at all. I'm hoping the 3rd key will be a snap. And the 3rd key will be:

Take care

Solo Stella

Trying my hands at Solo Piano.

I hope you somewhat enjoy this very short version of Stella by Starlight. I sure had fun playing with various sounds.

Next step is working with the chord tone exercise.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stella's back

Weird things happen in music. How do I put it?

There's that one tune I never liked. It's one of the most famous American standards of all times, and I don't even know it. I can't sing it from memory. Give me a lead sheet and I can barely make sense out of it.

Everyone who's ever played any song from The Great American Songbook has played it. Everyone has sung it.

By now you know which tune I mean (as if the title wasn't completely obvious). Stella by Starlight.

So what's wrong with me?

I know. I got it. I checked out my music library (recently converted all my CDs to FLAC), and these are the cats playing Stella: Keny Werner, Kenny Drew, Chick Corea McCoy Tyner, etc... (I'm not much into singers)
None of whom bothers to stay even remotely close to the melody. That's how famous the tune is. How's a young fellow like me suppose to know it then?

There's another angle to it. Many pianists believe that learning tunes from leadsheets is a waste of time. You should learn tunes from records. I never bought it. I can play 'Fly me to the moon' in my sleep. Half drunk I'll still know the melody. I don't need to transcribe it.
That's because I already did... without realizing it ...

So there I was determined to learn Stella.
Went to my favorite source for everything: Youtube! Typed Stella by Starlight, picked up the first video that came up. Anita O'Day. Not bad. It'll do. Here it is:

Off I go transcribing the melody. Took about an hour I think. After only one hour, I no longer have any problem remembering the melody. Sorry I can't post the transcription. I could, but I really don't think I'm supposed to...
So it does work to get melodies off records, but get it from singers. Sinatra, King Cole whatever. You don't have to like it, but at least, it stays close to the original.

And now of course I have Stella in my head. I'm going to make something with it, not quite sure what yet. I'm working out some harmonies for it, (very) loosely based on the O'Day version. I'll use some tricks I got from 7NoteMode and see what I can do with it.

I'll also try the chord tone approach. All of that coming up soon.

Keep playing.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Chord tone Improvisation

Here's an interesting exercise I got from the great book

"Metaphors for the Musician".

Choose a tune and improvise on it using chord tones, only chord tones and nothing but chord tones.

So if you see Cm7, you get to choose between C Eb G and Bb
If you see Eb6, you get to play Eb - G - Bb - C
you get the drift.

This is a bit of a brain teaser at first. The metaphor Randy uses is the lighted keys, those keys should light up in your head.

The first tune I chose is All the things you are. I chose it because it's a great standards with tons of 251 and plenty of modulation.
Here are my changes:
F-7 | Bb-7 | Eb7 | AbM7 | DbM7 | G7 | CM7 | CM7
C-7 | F-7 | Bb7 | EbM7 | AbM7 | D7 | GM7 | GM7
A-7 | D7 | GM7 | GM7 | F#-7 | B7 | EM7 | C+7
F-7 | Bb7 | Eb7 | AbM7 | DbM7 | Db-7| Cm7| Bdim7
Bb-7| Eb7 | AbM7| G7 C7 |

If you want to play, play one or 2 choruses. Any instrument goes.

Here's my chorus:
All the things you are

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Groove Blues

Here's a blues in F I recorded last week.
The right hand plays simple lines, while the Left hand plays "charleston" style, a style often heard played by Wynton Kelly or Ahmad Jamal for example.

Playing simpler exercises like this one is a good opportunity to focus on key things:
- Swing, keeping solid time.
- Left Hand voicings. Here 2 kinds of reharmonization are used. ii V and passing 7th chords (B7 to Bb7 for instance)
- Hand balance. Left hand should play very lightly, imitating a guitar
- Hand independence. While the left hands playing lightly, it's important for the right hand to articulate the lines, simple as they may be.

This last point proves to be the most challenging.

Time permitting, the intent is to play this short tune in a few more keys. I chose the next one randomly and it's G.

In the meantime, I'm working on a chord tone approach improvisation exercise for "All the things you are". I'd like to post something within a few weeks.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Finally recorded this etude from Jazz Conception.

This is based on the changes to 'Four'.

This has been the most challenging piece yet, and I'm happy to finally take a break from it.

A few interesting points:
- This is the first up tempo (200 bpm) tune with 2-3 bars 1/8th notes phrases. This is getting seriously fast, too fast to really have time to think.
- I used my own method for learning this, as described here:
- This etude is technically demanding, and introduces 2 handed lines (in octaves). This will be further studied later in a Parker blues.
- One particular aspect is the sequence of close lines, followed by opened lines, forcing the hand to expand very quickly. I had to stop and study some basic arpeggios for this. There's a famous exercise that is useful, while I can't recall the composer, it involves chromatic lines followed by arpeggios.

With all of that said, the final judgment is "can it swing?". Not yet, it would if I took it down to 160 or so, but at 200, I'm still lagging technically. Getting there though.

I am seriously considering re-recording some of the earlier posts.

But for now, I have to get some Christmas music down, and make my man 7notemode proud.

Keep playing.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Autumn Leaves - Blocks - Part 1

This has been more technically difficult than anticipated. Add to this the fact that work has been pretty intense. It took a little more than a week.

Nevertheless, I finally have a recording to get started.

As usual, I will record this in 4 keys, chosen randomly, except for Bb which is the common key for this tune.

This is the first section of Autumn Leaves, more or less played as arranged in an earlier post.

Drawing random keys:
Bb - Gb - G - F


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Somethin' Blocky

In the last post, I had just finished transcribing Miles on Autumn Leaves. Leaving the melody intact, I added my own arrangements, block style.

Here they are:

This is the first half of the first chorus. Typing these notes is really slow. I gotta find a better way. Or write arrangements with less notes. Paper is a lot easier.

In any event, I welcome any kind of feedback on this. I will try and record it soon. I am working on too many things at the moment, but I'll try and complete this within a week or so.

Keep playing.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Somethin' Else

I will spend some time on playing block chords. A few weeks ago, I posted a Youtube link in which George Shearing himself describes his approach to block chords.

That's basically it.

I'm going with Autumn Leaves. For several reasons. First, it fits nicely in a 100 bpm or so tempo. Anything faster gets technical when playing block chords. Second, I already played a version of Autumn Leaves using Blocks, from Jim Snidero's book. So the technical issues should not be a hurdle.

As a starting point, I will use what I consider one of the best, if not the best interpretation of Autumn Leaves I've heard: Miles Davis on Somethin' Else. This Album is under the name Cannonball Adderley. One of my all time favorites. Miles just totally owns the space.
So here's part one of the transcription:

The lead is Miles' trumpet. The bass is Sam Jones. Very laid back.

The approach is this:
1. Transcribe these trumpet + bass parts
2. Play over Miles to imitate articulation
3. Arrange something "blocky" while trying not to clash with Hank Jones in order to keep the overall idea
4. Play and record.
5. Start over with part 2.

Arranging the melody in blocks is a very interesting exercise. There are many harmonic possibilities. I just try to pick what sounds best.

I will attempt to write down the full arrangement, but I make no promise because of the amount of notes. This will be in the next post, along with recordings. I will pick random keys as usual.

I will also try to record on the acoustic because blocks just sound so much fuller.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Simple Bb Blues

Here's a Simple Bb Blues.

I'll work from a simple bass line in Bb:

And use simple Shells for the RH.

Target tempo will be 120bpm.

Random keys:
Bb B Eb Gb
Here's the matrix:


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Blues for Rhonda - Chorus 1

I've managed to extract the walking bass line from the first chorus of Blues For Rhonda on Gene Harris' Maybeck album. (available at

I also added my own arrangements for the RH. This is an interesting exercise.

Here's the result in PNG. I used Finale Notepad, but I'm not sure how to add chord notation, which would be nice, as it would better show the kind of reharmonization used.
[update: I added the chords in Gimp. Not ideal notation, but will do for now. I will try Sibelius for the next transcription]

Next step is to play this. Let's draw the die to determine 2 keys in addition to the mandatory F and Bb.
Winners are:
F, Bb, Db, G

So here we go with the table. I'll add as I record. As with the last exercise, I'll set a target tempo of 100 bpm.


Bluesy Time

Time to start the same exercise I did for Satin Doll, this time on the blues.

I will play a walking bass line with RH chords. Most likely 3 choruses. Again, in 4 random keys. Well not totally random. It's the blues, so I just have to at least do it in F and Bb. The other two will be random.

I chose to extract the bass from a tune called 'Blues for Rhonda', played by Gene Harris on his Maybeck album. The album is a real treat, and very accessible as well. On this specific F blues, Gene plays a great walking bass during the entire tune.

I'm not going to even attempt transcribing Gene's RH, so I'll come up with RH comping based on his changes.

I'll start my matrix and start recording in a following post. At this time, I am writing my arrangements with pencil. I intend to share my work here, so for readability, I may type it in some software, I'll see... In any event, when you practice stuff like this, I don't recommend transposing on paper and sight read. That would be missing the point.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Tracking the Doll

After reading a recent post on, I decided I would record each section in each key I practice.

Folks might find the walking bass and accompaniment interesting. I on the other hand will use this to track progress. I will simply keep updating this post as I go through the following table.

For each given line, the same notes are played, only transposed.
Different walking bass lines are played on each line, and more color tones are added to the harmony.

To make things easier, I'm recording this on the digital keyboard, using FingerBass in LH and Piano in RH.

Section \ KeyCFEbB

I'm all done now. Gotta find something else to work on.
Must do a blues for sure. Maybe I can steal some Gene Harris' lines...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

New Tune Learning Strategy

I'm going back to one of the first, if not the first tune I've ever attempted: Satin Doll.

But this time, I'm taking it to a different level.
Step one on my trip to mastering this tune is learning RH comping while playing a walking bass line.

Here's the strategy for accomplishing this.
There are 4 sections in this tune, it goes AABA
I have randomly (with the help of a die) selected 3 keys besides the common one (C in this case). (It will be C, Eb, F and B)

Simple math, 4 sections, 4 keys. That's 16 items to learn. I've drawn a simple matrix for myself. I will start with the first A section in 4 keys. It will include a particular bass line to be learned by heart, and simple shell chords.
Then I'll do A again in the same 4 keys, with a different bass line and adding more tones to the chords.
Then B, then A again. In a slightly different way once again.

Playing in different keys is crucial to mastering just about anything, including tunes. The first key is by far the most difficult since this is where most of the stuff happens:
- Transcribe bass line
- Play bass line :)
- Figure out LH chords
- Come up with varying rhythms for RH comping

When doing the 2nd key, it only looks difficult, but it isn't. However, you learn a lot by finding out those spots you didn't quite analyse or understand properly the first time around. You are starting to play tones in relations to scales.
The 3rd key continues down that path, while the 4th key is more or less a formality.

The idea is to be able to totally internalize the tune's progression, and learn a couple of slick bass lines while I'm at it. I'm hoping this is where I'll get by the end of the week.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Practicing versus Playing

I think it's common for young Jazz musicians to confuse practicing with playing. You'll often hear people say "I don't practice, I just play and enjoy"

In this great free Masterclass, Master Jazz pianist Kenny Werner talks about the importance of practice:

What I get out of it is that it is important to practice with small, short terms achievable goals.

For example:
"I'm going to learn how to play walking bass " is not a practical achievable goal. It would be like saying. I'm going to play bass like Ron Carter.

"I'm going to nail this particular walking bass line over a ii-V progression" is better. It's something you can achieve in 1 or 2 hours.
And if indeed you spend 2 hours on it, chances are the skill will stay with you the rest of your life.

It then comes down to this:
If your practice sessions consist of playing tunes, then you are working on building a repertoire, which is a good goal, as long as you realize that it is what you're doing. And you should have a systematic approach to it.

You're practice sessions should include small ideas, licks, progressions that you MUST learn in 12 keys. That's where you see real and quick progress.
Then you can apply the new idea to tunes.
This will lead to more variety, playing each tune with a different approach, because building vocabulary, I believe, is more important than building a repertoire.

When you apply new things to tunes, It is extremely important to do it in more than one key. Probably you don't have time to learn a tune in all 12 keys, so just pick at least 4 randomly, and play through the entire tune in those 4-5 keys. This will lead to you analyzing and understanding the tune rather than just memorizing it.
I'm at the point where I'm thinking, if I'm going to learn a tune in only one key, it's not even worth bothering, there's no way I'll remember it 3 months from today.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Vacation Break

After coming back from vacation yesterday, I was almost scared to sit at the piano. I expected I would play bad, that my fingers would be out of shapes, and that my memory would fail me.
I guess I had in mind the famous Satchmo quote:
"If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it. And if I don’t practice for three days, the public knows it."

Having not played for 5 days, I thought "boy... I'm in trouble"

Well, surprise! I sat down and played the blues in a couple keys. And not only it was all there, but I spontaneously came up with new lines I had not played before.
Strange no?

My memory was still there, the pieces I was trying to memorize came back instantly, and I was able to memorize new stuff much more easily than before leaving for vacation.

I guess I needed a break.

Let's hope I can make this last.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Shearing Sound

Watch this great video if you haven't already, where the Shearing sound is explained by Shearing himself. Great stuff:


Shadow of your Smile

Step one of my Harmonic voyage. Here's a piece from 'Simply Elegant Piano', one in the Piano Stylings series.

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Nice movement through out, simple tritone substitution, passing tones and chromatic movement.

I'm working on Bewitched now, another pop standard.

I'm about a third done with my 'Where is Love' transcription. I'll then try to play it. Hang in there!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Randy Halberstadt's Sequencer Revisited

If you don't have the book called "Metaphors for the Musician", go buy it.

With that said, Randy explains a method for learning any sequence of things, called "The Sequencer".
I have used that approach over the last year and it's really good. It's just like he says, a no non-sense approach.

I have one issue with it.
If you take Randy's example page 14, by the time you are done with the exercice:
- You practiced C7 6 times.
- You practiced EbMaj7 8 times.

Doesn't seem like a big deal but it is. Because I have never been able to play Step 12 only once, it takes me much practice to add any previous bar to a new one.

Usually, when I learn say 64 bars, using this technique, I know bar 1 through 12 perfectly. But bar 40 to 64 are so so. That's because I practiced them a lot less.

So here's another approach.

Say I have to learn A-B-C-D-E-F
First I learn A perfectly
Then B, then C, D, E then F

Then I'll learn A-B perfectly
Then B-C

Then I'll learn A-B-C
Then B-C-D
you get the picture.

It looks like a lot more than the first method. But I don't think it is after all.
First of all, it obviously gets easier. Once you've learned A-B and B-C perfectly, A-B-C gets easy.
Then, the idea of returning to learning A-B after you've learned C-D-E-F in between is good. It helps to let something sit and come back to it later. You will memorize things in the long term better (something they teach you in school).

Finally, you are spending the same amount of time on each part of the tune. As much on the end as you do on the beginning. How many tunes do you know really well, except for those last 4 bars? It will help with this.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

New Phase

I might just have managed to break the dependency I had on Mike Ledonne's arrangements from 'Jazz Conception'.
Actually, I sort of reached a point where the next tune is a serious technical step up, and it just gets worse from there. To be specific, it involves some fast (200bpm give or take) 2 hand lines.
I just don't have those chops... yet.

So here's the battle plan.

I am going to start focusing on 2 things:
- Finger independence
- Harmonies

Finger independence is pretty straight forward. For the last week, I am religiously spending 20 minutes or so a day on Hanon. The left hand drags. But it's getting better already. The goal is to be able to play those crazy lines after about a month or so. And play them "effortlessly".

Working on harmony is not quite as simple. Here's the plan.
- Play a few things from the Piano Stylings Series. These are easy to play, yet harmonically complex with nice reharm and counterpoint.
- Transcribe some good stuff. I'm going to start with my favorite album of the moment. Monty at Maybeck. Just gorgeous. Harmonically, it doesn't get any better. I'll start with 'Where is Love?'. A beautiful ballad. I won't try to get each and every note down, but rather understand what is happening.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Island in the Sun and perfect pitch

Something interesting occurred today. I looped 3 or 4 times over Monty Alexander's tune "Island in the Sun" while on my way to work (I love it that much). I sat at the piano in the evening --10 hours later-- and started playing. I heard the tune perfectly well in my head, and what else, there was no doubt in my mind what pitch it started on. I checked, it was an E. Then I played Monty again, and sure again, it starts on E.

So I was able to memorize with a good degree of certainty the starting tone of "Island in the Sun" after a 10 hour break.

This reminds me of my teacher who said once: "I know Bb because I played Misty so many times".

Next step, associate E to this tune. I will try again later...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Better focus with singing

The idea of singing while performing is often debated. While some think it helps, some thing it's actually a hindrance.

One fact however:
Most top pianists sing. Or hum. Or vocalize. Call it what you want, they make noise.

Depending on microphone placement, it's more or less obvious.
Some do it very openly. Keith Jarrett, Lionel Hampton or Oscar Peterson come to mind.

But exactly why do they vocalize?

Something happened last week as I was attempting to record a version of "There is no Greater Love" :

I had difficulties focusing.
Some of the things that went through my mind:
- Darn I played that one too early
- Hmm, should have played Eb instead
- Wow, I'm feeling good right now!
and so on...
Whatever goes in my mind, the same thing always happens. I lose track of the tune a few bars later .
I believe it is due to the fact that I think a few bars ahead. Anywhere between 2 and 6 bars usually. When my mind wanders, I can play whatever I have already thought about, and then draw a sudden blank.

The solution: sing
Sing those lines that you are about to play. So long as you are singing, it's difficult for the mind to think of other things.

Something I am going to investigate more...