Learn more piano without staves, lines and dots.
September 2, 2008 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Resources for improving piano chops without sheet music?

Ok, MeFi, this is the most difficult question I've posed, but I have faith in your ability to provide me with an answer.

I've been playing piano for about a decade, solidly, cramming in an hour of improvisational jams wherever I can. I learned how to sight-read when I was 6, but subsequently forgot how to do that. I have little desire to re-learn.

I have a solid understanding of scales, modes, intervals and chords. I'm interested in learning about things like counterpoint, harmony, bass accompaniment, blues, jazz, rock n' roll from a 'broad overview' context instead of a 'play these songs and figure it out' method.

Yet, I feel as though I've hit a ivory ceiling and progress only in steps that wear off between practices. It's been a while since I've had a breakthrough experience in understanding, so I'm looking for inexpensive resources, preferably written in dead-tree format, but interactive electronic ones will do as well. Thanks!
posted by emptyinside to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I play improvisational jazz piano. I can't read to save my life.
Well...I know how to read but just enough to read the piece once, memorize it and throw away the sheet music after that.

In any case, have you read Mark Levine's Jazz Piano book? Its a great book, sort of the improvisationists Bible for theory.
posted by vacapinta at 12:26 PM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

To be sure, you're interested in composition techniques and it's hard to separate composition from the staff. A friend just recently recommended a counterpoint book to me, and it probably wouldn't be too hard to follow the Amazon recommendation trail to other concepts you're interested in.

Another thing is that these things may not be amenable to "jam" contexts right away, and you will likely benefit from sitting down and bashing out the concepts on your own in a more structured fashion.
posted by rhizome at 12:31 PM on September 2, 2008

Sounds like you're looking for music theory.

Jamming reinforces being comfortable with what you already know. Learning to hear and use the parts you *don't* already know is how to progress in music.

How's your voice leading? Tritone subs? How many distinctly different changes do you know for a standard 12 bar form? When is the cryptophrygian scale appropriate? A lot of getting better on your instrument comes from a little bit of knowledge and a lot of practice in applying it.

/Mark Levine's book is excellent.
posted by lothar at 12:56 PM on September 2, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the Book.

I suppose what I'm looking for is more 'knowledge' as lothar says it.
posted by emptyinside at 4:51 PM on September 2, 2008

Here's a little bit of knowledge to keep you busy for the next decade or two:
1)Since the important voices in a chord are the 3 and 7,
2)and I-IV or I-V give half step transitions of the 3 and 7 by 3to7 and 7to3,
3)you can descend by half steps in a II-V-I pattern,
4)thus deriving tritone substitutions.

Yeehah! I loves me some theory. And little things like this will give you tons of material to get under your fingers.
posted by lothar at 11:34 AM on September 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've reflected on this question in the days since it launched, my reflections as I struggle to learn the same instrument under similar circumstances (I didn't really learn to read music until maybe eight, but forgot is forgot):

I decided that as much as I tended to dislike rote work I was going to need to get it and unfortunately much of that is written using musial notation. I had "some" notation: treble clef for another instrument and could puzzle out pieces but I know it is within my capacity to take notation and convert it fairly effortlessly into musical output so have bit the bullet and enrolled in a group class down at the local CC where I am learning my ass off on even some of the fundamentals I would have thought myself above having refreshed.

I find that the best learning from me comes from happy accidents, revisitation of pieces learned earlier in my development with a new perspective, accompanying pieces I like but am unfamiliar with, piecing out other's chord progressions, etc.

To which end, boredom is not a bad thing: I had an English professor who had several of us prove that we could either write daily or else write daily about not writing. After a while one's mind will put out the other alternative quite quickly.

Arguably, if you want to learn how to better play with others, listen to others play improvisationally. Find an act to have your mind blown by.

Drills are a burden but work there does pay off as well: I find new ways to move my hands after they have been limbering up, etc. Also, it seems like times they'll have ideas of their own.

So far, the results have been amazingly good and I find my "old grind" mostly boring.

Scala might give you some interesting ideas.

Don't hate on the ability to read music. Written music is like the written word: portable, efficient and clearly understandable. I like slogging through chord puzzlement as much as the next hack, but cutting that step out is pretty OK.

Kinda TL/Don't-R and rambling -- hopefully something up there you can take away. Good luck!
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:28 PM on September 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

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