Monday, February 29, 2016

Song Writing Hurdles

I have a two week deadline to complete an entire song. Music, lyrics, the works. Not to be misleading with the use of the word "deadline", which implies ramifications if I don't complete it. There are no ramifications beyond personal displeasure and potentially disappointing my vocal coach, being the person who tasked me with this undertaking. That being said, consequences or no, I'd like to complete it. It may be terrible and it may be embarrassing, but it will be finished, and that is an achievement of sorts. By being complete I'll be able to leave it behind and try again, hopefully making my next attempt slightly less horrifying. Then I'll repeat the process a few hundred times until I hopefully have something mildly passing. Or more ideally I'll discover I'm a natural prodigy and write a masterpiece, but I'm not going to hold my breath for that one.

Having already squandered half of my two weeks, I recently realized why I'm struggling to make more progress. I'm spending a lot of time on minute details that probably don't matter. Or don't matter at this stage in the process, at least.
Last night I spent an agonizing amount of time on 4 measures for the ending. My working on the ending is in no way indicative of my progress through the song, by the by. I just happened to have noodled with a melody that I felt would sound good as an ending. At any rate, in measure 1 and 3, there is literally a single note that is interchanged between the two, and only by a single tone. And I couldn't for the life of me decide which I preferred. The change is so slight that when I sent it to a friend for an opinion, I was told, "I listened to both samples a few times and can't tell any difference," which makes me believe no one but a professional musician or someone with a very refined ear would even care, so why am I tearing my hair out about this?
Besides, I've decided that I need to try and treat song writing as I would a painting. A simple base layer to start with then slowly and steadily adding more and more details until it is full of texture and, by the time you are finished, becomes interesting. Hopefully.

I'm only now coating the base with color and am a long way from painting any sort of sunset. I'll try and get the colors right when I get there instead of worrying about them while it is still early morning.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Brain and Finger Disconnect

Over the last year I've noticed a rather obnoxious disconnect between any music I play and what my brain is doing at any given moment during the piece. From the start of this piano learning process, one thing I focused on extensively was never looking at my fingers. The practice has served me well, but I've recently discovered - as I learn more difficult pieces that take me longer to learn - that it can cause me to become lost should I ever make a mistake. I used to be rather good at making a mistake and continuing on like nothing happened, which I imagine was a hold-over from my guitar days. But recently I've started to pause upon making an error and that gives my brain JUST enough time to activate and confuse everything. It made me realize that even if I know a piece by memory, I don't really know at any time what note I'm playing as I play it. That means if I've gotten my fingers out of position I have no idea where they are supposed to go without starting back a few measures. This can obviously be a problem.

Muscle memory is clearly an important skill with this instrument, but I feel my sole reliance on it has done me a disservice. I brought up the disconnected feeling randomly my vocal coach and she suggested that when I practice scales and arpeggios (the latter of which I rarely practice...I know, I know...) that I actively call out the name of the notes I'm hitting. My first thought was that this will also help with me oddly terrible ability to say the alphabet backwards from G. But I think she may be onto something. Having only tried this method a few times, I already feel that this is going to help me address the issue.
As I think on how long it took me to find a simple solution to my disconnect problem, it becomes quite clear to me that I need to come up with other similar efficient practice techniques if I ever want to rise above piano mediocre. My progress has been beyond disappointing of late and it's frustrating. I need a renewed effort on more efficiency and deliberate practice. If I can get those working in tandem I believe it will really boost my progress in the direction I want.

In other news, I sang the first part of a song in front of someone for the first time, and it was absolutely terrifying. All these times I've worked with the vocal coach, I have only been focusing on technique and exercises, forever pushing off attempting a real song. Okay, that's not quite true. To ease me into the process, we've often worked on the below:

Which I've gotten pretty good at, if I may be so bold. Though obviously not quite as good as Pavarotti. But singing a song in a language you don't know is pretty on par with doing various technique exercise. It's a lot easier to really throw yourself into it when it just comes out as a bunch of sounds. When it comes out as understandable words, that's when the doubt and fear and such really sets in. With that in mind, when the first word of the new song I worked on came out as little more than a squeak, I wasn't really surprised. I'm not discouraged though as I think on how far I've progressed since my first lesson. In the beginning, even jibberish sounds were hard to make myself do at any reasonable volume; even more difficult were the many strange exercises that make you look completely ridiculous. 
It took a while to become comfortable with all of that, but these days I don't think twice about having to hold my hands to my face and squish my cheeks up in weird ways so that I can trill my lips to get the sound I want. Or, as last time, stick a spoon to the back of my tongue and force it to stay flat when trying to make an "AH" sound. But a year ago I'd have folded in on myself in embarrassment. 
Those trials have certainly changed my view on how I think about singers when I see them make silly faces during  performance. I used to just think, "that's not a good look for them" but now it just makes me realize they are applying some technique or another to their voice. It's been very enlightening.

Whatever ends up coming out of the time spend in these classes, I feel at the very least it has been good for my self-confidence.