Neither of my parents had any musical background. (I took the group piano class while having nothing to practice on during the week between lessons!). I begged my parents to buy a piano and they relented when I was seven.
My mother sold Tupperware to pay for a Wurlitzer console piano from the local music store. She found a graduate voice (not piano) student at the local university to teach me. That young teacher was smart and kind. I enjoyed her lessons a lot!
I found great relief in learning music throughout my youth. Music soothed my emotional confusion and allowed me to express my true feelings with anonymity. I relished solitude and musical expression as an introvert. I still do!
Contrary to my dark moods as a child (don’t worry, I’ve lightened up!), I distinctly remember having incredible fun in my elementary music classes. My first music teacher was Dorothy Smith (now deceased). She was the funniest, most animated, openly warm-hearted and embracing teacher I’ve ever had in my life.
Sometimes she would sing and play cute, comedic songs on piano for us that she had composed herself. She would help us put together musicals—including our parents as cast members! Her infectious enthusiasm and complete warmth were my catalytic hook to music.
The fact she shared her love of creating original songs and using music as a way of community-building and fun ingrained in my heart the value of music as a communication method. She was a role model of using creativity to harmonize with others.
I quickly outgrew my first piano teacher and spent a few years waiting for my parents to find another. When we found one, I went through everything that teacher could offer within a year.
This went on in the same pattern until I started college. So I had a spotty, inconsistent and generally lacking in educational quality piano history before college.
My College Years
After a difficult period in my personal life, I moved myself from Kentucky to Florida when I was 23. I was happily able to receive both piano and vocal scholarships at State College of Florida and University of South Florida.
However, I had a tendency to practice my original music and neglect my classical piano pieces until a week before jury time. Then I would cram all day piano practice sessions for a week to pass my juries.
Miraculously, I always did well except for my nerves. It was a stressful situation full of stage fright. I don’t recommend it.
The stage fright I experienced was traumatic and held me back for many years from being able to pursue music performance. My stage fright and approach to music learning were a reflection of my life choices to that point and my lack of disciplined training.
I hadn’t yet learned good piano practice habits. I had to learn quite late, and definitely the hard way about the importance of consistent, disciplined effort and preparation in music practice.
Although I got both piano and vocal scholarships and was leader of the jazz, madrigal and full college choirs, I didn’t opt for a vocal degree, and ended up changing my initial major from piano performance to music composition.
Although I was capable as a soprano and pianist, somehow creation itself always had a stronger voice within me.
What’s Most Important About Your Musical Experience
The memory association that first teacher gave me about music has been a huge factor in my ability to not give up on my musical growth despite struggles with stage fright and inconsistent training.
I share the detail of my spotty musical background as a way to encourage anyone reading that piano is for everyone. You don’t have to have the fortune of high profile credentials to learn piano and gain the tremendous benefits of music education.
I’m grateful for my first teacher’s influence in that regard because I feel she showed me what’s most important early on. That lesson carries me through to this day.
As a result, despite my obstacles, and with gratitude for my teachers, I made a 30-year career out of piano and music teaching, as well as performing professionally as pianist and vocalist.
Knowing How To Practice Piano Effectively Is Key
In college, one of my piano instructors, Dr. Charles Turon, gave me a complete understanding of how to practice piano effectively. He taught me the importance of ‘mind spent’ versus ‘time spent’.
He also taught me the importance of mindfulness and breath in regard to awareness of physical tension and placement in relation to piano practice.
That was a huge lesson for piano progress, and Dr. Turon’s lessons are the basis for both my teaching strategy and my personal piano practice sessions.
Immersed In The World Of Negative Musical Experiences
Unfortunately, not having a solid musical training led to a lack of confidence in myself as a musician. In college, I had such low self-esteem that I felt inadequate and out of place in the music department.
I had a few piano teachers there whose intellectual snobbery and emotional distance kind of perpetuated my negative feeling. I had two female piano teachers, but both were reserved and stoic. Fellow pianists were stand-off-ish and mostly concerned with flashy technique versus authentically musical expression. So my whole college experience was a world of musical snobbery and intense judgment.
I know many musicians who’ve experienced the intellectual egoism in the classical music world, too. I also think this negative experience influenced my decision to get my degree in music composition versus performance.
How You Can Have The Joy of Solid Piano Study
I wrote this ebook for the same reason I taught piano for decades. I want to help you get started in your musical journey with a positive foundation. My desire is to give you an incredibly warm, heartfelt environment where you feel confident in your musicality and self-expression.
Giving others what I didn’t have on my own musical journey until much later is extremely important to me. I offer this ebook and all my content on piano learning so that no one else experiences the snobbery, intellectual ego, or educational gaps I’d endured.
There are so many people who are looking to start piano lessons for themselves, a friend, or a child. However they don’t really know how to start or even what basics are truly essential for a successful piano education. Many people are intimidated by the prospect and give up even though they really want to play piano!
There’s a lot of noise out there offering quick tricks or gimmicks to learn piano faster than before. I’m not saying that some things available online or elsewhere aren’t offering any value. The truth is that these don’t work in the long run—or at least not as a foundation—for those who truly want to progress in playing piano successfully and continue to progress as a musician.
My ebook is meant to dispel the myth—that piano playing can be accomplished with a fast, easy trick or gimmick—through straight talk from someone who has taught and played piano for 30 years.
I’ve retired from one-on-one piano teaching, but I want to offer value to my online audience at YourCreativeChord.com. Over the years, many people asked me the questions featured in my new ebook! I’ve written several blogs answering a lot of those questions from new or returning piano learners.
I decided to offer an all-in-one, easy-to-read resource where those interested in starting piano lessons can find all the answers to their questions about how to successfully begin and forge a strong foundation for continued piano progress.
For anyone who’s interested in exploring piano learning, this is the ebook that gives you everything you need to get started learning piano right. ‘Right’ means with the confidence that you’ve got the right teacher, method, instrument, setup, routine, advice, age and anything else needed to successfully begin piano!
What You Need To Know, Have & Do To Start Piano Right! Ebook
A practical, down-to-earth, all-in-one resource and easy-to-read guide for anyone interested in getting started or returning to piano lessons.
As my gift to you, with every purchase of my ebook, you'll automatically receive a FREE download of my original photo with a self-care affirmation.
Get Everything You Need To Start Piano With My Ebook, "What You Need To Know, Have & Do To Start Piano Right!" A practical, down-to-earth, all-in-one resource and easy-to-read guide for anyone interested in getting started or returning to piano lessons. Topics include what kind of keyboard is necessary, how to find a quality instrument and piano method, whether you need and how to find a good piano teacher, whether online tools for piano learning are valuable, what’s needed for a successful start to piano learning, and how to maintain continued piano progress. This ebook provides answers to those seeking a successful start or greater momentum for piano progress.
As my gift to you, with every purchase of my ebook, you'll automatically receive a FREE download of my original photo with an affirmation. The affirmation poster is completely free to download, print, use as a desktop wallpaper or screensaver for your computer.
The beauty of nature and positive words brings inspiration. We all need reminders. May this small gift of beauty and positive thought remind you of your immense potential for creative energy and inspire you to tap into your best self.
by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
I recommend two approaches to composing for piano:
COMPOSE BY IMPROVISING
(Listen to my original piano music here.)
A: Determine A Chord Progression
For example, use C major key and this chord progression: C, Am, F major, G7. Typical ‘Heart and Soul’ chord progression. If you can’t remember the order, write these on paper.
B: Practice Playing
Play each chord’s bass home tone (C,A,F,G) with your LH, and perhaps the chord triad itself in your right hand.
Play each chord/bass tone for one measure.
Experiment within that perimeter by using RHYTHM only to alter the feel/groove of your progression.
C: Use MELODY
Once you have a chord progression and a bass line mastered, drop the chord triads from RH and use RH to play around with notes in the C major scale as you continue playing your LH bass line progression.
For me, I like to use a DAW’s drum loop to find a groove and play along with that for tempo and rhythmic phrasing/groove.
You can also alternate between playing the chords and the melody to make things more varied.
D: Practice Specific Piano Styles
Since you are interested primarily in PIANO, use the above basic improvisation exercises to practice specific piano styles: walking bass, chords with color tones (7, 9, 11, 13ths), arpeggios, triads, 6ths, octaves, doubled notes, etc…
Simply repeat the chord progression using one or more of those (or other) piano techniques.
These are some of my ideas for improvising outside of the jazz tradition. Of course, pick your own chord progressions for more challenging, intriguing and fresh music.
COMPOSE BY BLUEPRINT
A: Song Form
For the blueprint approach, either on paper or using a DAW, I like to map out a song FORM (ABAB, ABABCBB, AABB, et) first to set a parameter of structure.
Write out 16 blank measures and call that A section.
Follow that with another 16 bars as B section, and so on. Or limit to 8 bars per section.
Possibly add a C section with few or more bars or equal–whatever you want for your structure. An even numbers of bars seems to feel better for most contemporary music, though.
Alternately, you could copy the form of a favorite song or blues style as a template.
B: Determine Harmonic Progression
Once you have a form or structure for your music mapped out, determine a chord progression for each section. Usually the B section changes keys to the dominant chord or something else to be less predictable and sound different from the A section.
For example if A section uses that C major progression above (C, Am, F, G), then the B section would start in the key of G major (or often Am, the minor 6th of C major). Then go back to your original chord/key in the next A section.
C: Discover Melodic Motifs
Once your form, key and chord progressions are drafted (this may change, pending how your melody transpires! Be flexible and go where you musical ideas take you, of course!), using notes within that progression/key (C major in the A section), play around with melodic motifs that fit within that key/chord progression.
A good rule of thumb is to make something, then repeat it, then CHANGE it very slightly. AAA1. Or, same, same, slightly varied. The ear likes patterns and repetition. But not TOO much! Continue until you have a few motifs/lines to complete your A section.
Then CHANGE to the new key in the B section and play around with creating a motif/line/melody that is completely different than what you did in A section.
For example, if you used lots of busy, faster rhythmic phrases in the A section, use longer, slower rhythmic phrases with lots of rests and breathing space within the B section.
Or, if your A section note ranges are low, then use higher ranges of notes within the B section.
Another idea for creating the melodic motif is to limit the amount of melodic notes used and focus more on the rhythmic patterns of those limited notes used.
Think of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony: only 2 melodic notes used in the opening line (dun dun dun DUN) and four rhythmic notes/durations. But WOW he repeated that phrase and developed it into a massive symphony of greatness!
There are SO many things you can do, and so many books have good suggestions for your question, so check some of them out! Hope this gave you good food for thought!
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Learning To Be Creative
Listen to my original piano music here.
In my PIANO blogs, you'll find ways to overcome boredom, get past musical and mental blocks, explore the creative process with piano, and improve musical progress through piano teacher recommended best practices and effective piano practice tips.