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classical music

Chunking for Better Music Practice

Chunking is a specific way of grouping small “chunks” of music together for zoomed in practice. It helps you save time and frustration in the practice session!

Chunking is zooming in on tiny sections of music you’re having trouble with, so that you don’t spend an hour playing through mistakes when you could be targeting trouble spots with laser precision, in less time.

I’ve described the chunking technique in different articles over the years, but I think it’s time for me to create a definitive guide on it. 

So, here’s the definitive article about chunking, to help you learn music more quickly.

I’ve created a video to show the technique where you can practice with me! The article below describes the details.

Pinpoint your trouble spot

Divide the music that you’re having trouble with into bars. Play the bars separately; are you still having trouble? Which bars? Highlight them.

What’s the smallest measure of time that you could divide the bar into, that would still make sense? This can be per beat, or per two beats, or whatever makes sense for that part (if it ends in a strange spot, include the end of the triad or whatever).

This is from a piece I was working on, Un Sospiro. I’ve divided the passage into larger chunks that make sense, using the long lines. Then, I used brackets to denote smaller chunks of one beat, or one run of the pattern.

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How to be remembered

You probably know a song that makes you think of someone sweet or important in your life. Unless you’re tone deaf. But, if you’re tone deaf, then you wouldn’t be reading a music blog.

Well, except my dad. He was probably tone deaf, and he still read my blog.

My dad had helped plant a tree beside my grandma’s house when he was in his teens, and in recent years, it had grown taller than the house itself and the leaves had gotten a little unruly.

The last time I went to my grandma’s house, the tree was gone. It was chopped into tiny logs to heat my cousin’s house. It’s an important task, and I got to stay in her basement without freezing, because of the mighty tree.

It doesn’t affect me as much as a piece of music that would remind me of my dad.

The other day, I wanted to learn a song that my dad used to like, but after listening to it on the piano, I sat there and simply couldn’t play piano at all.

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Revive your music: Finding lost arts

Lost Arts in Music

When I took my first design classes in university, we were taught to use pen and paper to sketch pages and pages of… stuff.

I’ve drawn boxes, circles, squiggles, unicorns, if you name it, I’ve probably attempted it. (I also love to draw in my free time. In fact, for a while, I drew comics for this blog!)

In an industrial design class, the professor had told us to bring markers for sketching. Industrial design, in case you didn’t know, has to do with making physical objects, so it really is a sketch-heavy class.

I forget the markers, and all I had in my pencil case was a black sharpie and a purple highlighter.

He wanted to do a visual inspection of our sketches, so I have to hand something in, even if it’s chicken scratch. I shrug and use the sharpie to outline and purple highlighter to shade. It comes out bright, like my style. 

Eventually, the professor comes around to my table and collects the sketches. 

“Sketching on paper is really a lost art,” he says. “Everyone’s moving towards digital.”

He flips through the sketches and when he gets to mine, he says, “Some of you guys are going to be fine sketch artists by the end. I can already tell.”

I kept using highlighters to sketch for the class, and to this day, I still use highlighters to sketch. I shall use highlighters until the end of time. 

I never learned how to draw hands properly, so last week, I sat down and drew hands for a few hours.

Recently, I have been going back to basics, back to the lost arts.

I went back to my very first digital piano, a Casio, and dusted off the clumps of dust bunnies and moved it upstairs. The piano has basic weighted keys and a variety of sound effects on it, so you could play the glockenspiel or xylophone if you’re bored of piano.

I wanted to jam with myself. I wanted to play different parts of a piece of music, by myself. Is that sad? I’m not sad, you are!

I loved playing with the different instrument sounds when I first got the piano.

On the first day, it hurt my back to sit at a non-piano bench. All the Alexander technique exercises went out the window. The desk was too high for a piano and my back felt broken-stiff.

In the evening, my sister sat on the chair and said, “You want it higher?” Her hand clutches the lever under the seat and SWISH the chair is 20cm taller. 

To the children and adults in the room, I’ve fiddled with the chair and it didn’t budge, but I also have a history of breaking chairs, so thank you for judging me.

I try to play on the digital piano again on the second day, and I get some useable footage.

But alas! It turns out if one part of music is 0.3 seconds off, it ruins the entire piece. For example, if you’re trying to record the left hand and right hand of a piano piece separately, they likely won’t line up exactly when you match them up. 

On the third day, I re-shoot some clips to play using both hands together.

Eventually I figure out why people wear headphones when they’re recording music: They’re listening to the other parts of the music so they can combine the parts perfectly later. DUH. It’s really useful.

I spend half a day editing (by the time I’m done editing, I’m ready to vomit sugar plums). I’m aware that some of the squares are jiggly and don’t line up, but hey, I don’t really work at pixar.

Here is what I came up with, for the Sugar Plum Fairy!

I used the audio straight from my camera (aka iphone). Are you supposed to do that? I wanted to process the audio using Audition (which thankfully I know how to use), but I would’ve had trouble syncing it with the video again.

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