Advice of the elders

It is the blessed end to a long, rough week, I have cracked open what promises to be the first of several El Guapo IPAs this evening, and I am doing the last thing on my to-do list before I begin an evening of letting my hair down. My plans to “take the day off”, didn’t quite work out as planned, as I got a late afternoon call with some urgency that requires completion before noon Monday. For now, I have made no promises to myself other than to complete this daily ritual of writing, and then I will release myself to my whims.

We have finally allowed our new cats, Bodie and Utah, reign of the house. I am mildly anxious about the effect of cat dander on my various computers. So far that have stayed off the table where my mining equipment sits. At night we keep them locked in the master bedroom or bathroom, rather, lest they scamper over the bed at 3AM and wake Missus up, as they did last night. I have been sleeping in Younger’s bed, like a babe.

Besides the sleep deprivation, litter boxes and vomit that we’ve found on the bathroom floor for the past few days, the cats have been a wonderful addition to the family. The girls love them, and Elder actually did the chore of cleaning the litter box today on her own. Wonderful. I myself have flashbacks to a cat-crowded apartment that I stayed in during my twenties whenever I smell cat litter, and have told Missus that she needs to come up with a plan for me to have my shower, where a litter box is sitting, returned to operation.

The girls are doing well. Their TV consumption has come down quite a bit, and we’ve been making progress with their academics, as I’ve called it. I’m especially proud of some progress that Elder made with her piano today. She’s been stuck on a Playground Sessions bootcamp lesson for the Game of Thrones theme that she’s been stuck on for several weeks it seems. It’s not the first two-hand lesson that she’s done, so I’m not sure why she’s having such trouble. The app itself is actually causing her some stress, since playing with the real-time accompaniment and feedback is too much when she’s struggling to play. She wants to rush through them instead of giving herself time to grow, so I’ve been trying to coax her into playing it half-speed or from sheet music, but she resists.

I’ve found that starting each session by backtracking to the individual hands-separate lessons as a warmup before going into the harder one has been working well. And today I had her just look at the music and practice the problem bars over and over until she could put the longer sections together. And she started to get it. I think she’ll need a few more practice session on her own before she does the test again. And hopefully she’ll listen to her old man when he offers advice!

Music like breathing

I just have spent over two hours today playing piano today. I must have been flow state for some time. I was learning a simple version of Canon in D, only about 40 or 50 bars, but I managed to get the music and proper fingering memorized, and really speed drilled it into my head today.

It worked a bit to much, cause I found the song playing in my head for most of the day when I wasn’t playing the piano, and I knew I was really deep in it when I starting singing Blues Traveler over it. I just did a 30 minute meditation session, and it was everything I could do to concentrate on my breath or on the crickets outside. But even my breath was betraying me, as I found myself keeping time with my inhalations and exhalations. I can still hear it in my brain as I type these words, and I know it will be driving me crazy tonight as I try to go to sleep.

A few years ago I got my hands on a copy of Chuan C. Chang’s Fundementals of Piano Practice, and it got me to the point where I could actually sit down and teach myself how to play Fur Elise all the way through. The premise behind the method is that it turns the standard practice regimine on its head. Instead of practicing scales and exercise, Chang recommends going straight into playing an actual piece of music. Granted, there are certain fundamentals that one must understand, (reading notation!) but there is enough to be learned from just practicing a score than there one can learn from ‘exercises’. And learning the performance aspect of playing is important.

I took a similar approach when I was learning to play guitar decades ago. I didn’t do lessons or study books, I just picked up a copy of Guitar For the Practicing Musician from 711 and spent hours up in my room learning to play whatever random rock tracks they had for that month. I had a collection of tab books that I would study and play through for hours on end.

Piano has been frustrating for me because tablature is so much relatively easier to read than notation, and I guess I’d lacked the patience to internalize the mapping between the notes and the keys. It’s not any easier now, it just takes practice.

An another of the things that I took away from Chaun’s method is the focus on practicing the hardest parts first. And practicing hands separate. I don’t know if the latter is really revolutionary, but one can really swap back and forth with the hands separate method, drilling the hardest turns over and over at twice playing speed until the one hand gets tired, then switch to the other.

Chaun’s book is very long. I’ll admit that I haven’t read it. But their site seems like a trove of resources for anyone wanting to learn piano.