My notes from learning the piano
1558 words

The Bells

I was working from home nearly ten years ago when I heard The Bells album from Nils Frahm on Radio 6 Music. I instantly bought it on iTunes and played it through on repeat. It has been a go-to album for me since, and when I'm listening to it now I can still picture myself sitting at my beloved bureau working away.

Ten years on and I'm learning piano. Over There It's Raining was one of the first pieces I wanted to learn how to play. It's still a bit too tricky for me, but here's me giving it a go. There are some mistakes and the timing is off. But it's a keeper.

Nearly 50

I've decided to put the "Practice #x" to bed. When I started this journal, I wanted to write every day about my piano practice. It was almost like a motivator for me to play, so that I could write. However, I don't need that as a motivator - I play every day. Even if it's for 20 minutes, I still play.

That's what I wanted to document, playing every day, but on most days, you've not got much to write about i.e. if I'm just doing scales, then I'm just doing scales. The important things for me are 1) playing every day and 2) practicing the right thing (which I'm still working out).

My motivation for this journal is to consolidate what I'm learning. I want to learn music theory and since I'm largely doing it on my own, writing helps. I also want to use it as a marker for the progress I am making. And share the tools I am using.

For instance, I started in January 2019 and I set out a goal of learning 10 short classical pieces - I feel that that was a good project for me. I would then go around some local pianos and play these pieces in order to get experience playing other pianos whilst others are listening.

Playing in front of others is a sure way to get better, in my opinion.

But along came the opportunity to play a few songs in a local band for a gig in August and that has set me back a little on the classical stuff, but has accelerated my chord playing. As part of this, I'm learning Don't Stop by Fleetwood Mac. It has a bluesy riff on the left hand called a barrelhouse bass, which has been great for strengthening my fingers plus I am genuinely interested in learning blues style piano. Here's a tutorial I've been following:

So in summary, the posts from now on will be less frequent but contain more content. One day, I might even use a custom domain...

Practice #47 - minor scales

Been going through all the minor scales and chords of the minor scale.

This is from memory:

There are three minor scales; the natural, the harmonic and the melodic

Talk about making it complicated....

Each major scale has a minor scale, for instance C Major's minor scale is A.

You find A by going to the sixth note in the scale (c, d, e, f, g, A). There's another way using the circle of fifths, but I think the 6th note is best.

So in the case of G Major, the minor scale is E: g, a, b, c, d, E

To make the different minor scales, you do the following:

For Natural (A minor): A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A (all the white keys) and it is the same descending

For Harmonic (A minor): A, B, C, D, E, F, G#, A (so the 7th note is raised one semi-tone) and it is the same descending

For Melodic (A minor): A, B, C, D, E, F#, G#, A (so the 6th and 7th notes are raised a semi-tone) BUT on the descent, 6th and 7th notes drop back down (i.e. the natural minor of A, G, F, E, D, C, B, A).

Practice #44 and #45 - Alfred

I bought Alfred's The Complete Book of Scales, Chords, Arpeggios & Cadences and have been working through it. It's exactly what I was needing.

I've been conscious of a few things since starting piano. One of them has been going down a traditional path of learning piano. Many of the books involve playing simple pieces by sight reading. They are very boring, and I think, one of the main reasons why many people give up.

I started with Bach's Prelude in C, which is a much more complicated piece than many of the traditional books would cover. After learning and practicing the piece, it has given me something tangible.

I've learnt many more pieces but still need to learn theory if I am going to progress. Most of the stuff is online but it's hard to collect it all together, so I wanted a book for that, but as I said was conscious of getting the wrong book.

The Alfred's book I have bought is perfect for my level. And it gives me enough to practice whilst still learning pieces or songs I actually want to play.

It will form part of every practice session for the next few months.

Practice #37 - slurs and ties

Had lesson the the other day. Maninly on theory. despite being able to play some pieces now, I struggle with the theory, so I'm goig to spend a bit more time on that. Future me will be thankful. Here's a video on slurs and ties I found useful.

Practice #36 - James

Learning this for my pal James

Got a lesson later today. Yay.

Practice #33 - sevenths

Tonight I watched some videos on music theory. Here's a good video on creating 7th chords.

And the second part is here (which is a bit more complicated)

Practice #32 - other pianos

Been away on holiday for a few days so not played. Got back into it tonight and finished off memorising Saturday Sun. I now know it roughly and is a case of practicing it over and over. Will also get the friend to sing a long with it, as the timing is off.

When I was away I played two station pianos for a few minutes between trains. I struggled with the "realness" of it - I'm too used to the FP30. So I need to start playing other pianos to get better.

In time.

Practice #31 - sledgehammer

I'm reading James Rhodes autobiography right now. He talks about spending a...

"few hours working methodically and slowly and you will end up playing brilliantly much, much more quickly and reliably than just going at it with a sledgehammer approach"

So I did that today with Le Matin for an hour. Slow with more concentration.

Practice #30 - harder than it sounds

A nice one for beginners (me). One of the first I learned. Working on the tempo and technique. Harder than it sounds!

Short practice session today.

Practice time: 30 mins

Practice #28 - Saturday Sun Intro

Started off today with a recording. Working on the rest of the song now. Should be easy :)

Practice #19 - first recording!

Had a few days off work and been busy, so have just been spending 15-20 minutes messing around with chords when I was free. I've also been watching some YouTube videos on chords and scales, which is probably just as important as playing! Here's a video on the cirlce of fifths that is really useful.

Today, I got the FP linked to my mac and made my first recording of Prelude No 1. Here you go:

Practice #17 - some inspiration

Today this is my inspiration:

The amount of time spent, working on pieces that have been completely mastered, is what separates concert pianists from amateurs, because this this is when you really develop advanced techniques.

--The Fundamentals of Piano Practice

Spent another hour working bars 33 to 57 of Le Matin. After a long session yesterday and a good sleep, it's starting to click together.

Practice #16 - flow

This is the bit I love about learning a new piece of music: the point where you have memorised it and it is now just practice. Over and over and over again. For hours.

It's the therapeutic bit.


I've memorised Le Matin. First step now is to practice the rhythm and minimse mistakes. Second step is being able to perform.

Practice #5 - lesson

Had my first lesson today. A realisation of how far it is to go to be "good". Spent the session on four bars covering:

Hand position and fingering
Technique (pressing and releasing)

The lesson was also a good reminder of the bad habits you learn from teaching yourself (anything).