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classical piano

What happens when you set a “solid” music goal

Grace Lam Piano

Armed with new sheet music, I told myself I’d learn jazz everyday up until Christmas.

I sat down to film my progress, good or cringe-worthy, and worked at it for an hour or two everyday—jazz is a whole new ballgame if you’re a classical musician.

I know that we’ve talked about not having goals because that highlights all the things we don’t have… but I’m convinced that setting a solid goal will serve you really, really well.

A solid goal is simple enough that you can name the outcome in one sentence and there are checkboxes for the achievement. It’s small enough to break down for something you can do everyday—it only takes 66 days to create a habit and consistency wins!

Instead of “I want to be a better jazz pianist,” it could be:

“I want to learn to play jazz piano music so that I can swing and groove with the beat.”

All I needed to do was play piano everyday and learn jazz this winter.

Here is a collection of me playing piano. I’m really happy about some of these, and I hope you are too!

The First Noel

It’s challenging to improvise in public, where you’re actively disturbing Sunday morning coffee drinkers. A lot of this piece is improvised, so let me know what you think!

Thank you to Monika Szucs for filming and editing the video!

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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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