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#2301648 - 07/12/14 09:03 PM Advice on best way to structure my practicing...  
Joined: Jun 2013
Posts: 1
MZCT Offline
Junior Member
MZCT  Offline
Junior Member

Joined: Jun 2013
Posts: 1

I started learning piano a few years ago. I was consistent with my practicing and learning for about 14 months until i moved away for a couple of years. I am back now and am eager to rekindle my mission to learn piano.

My main interest is composition, chord progressions and just having the knowledge to make my own songs so i can record with my friends for fun.

As of now i have a basic understanding of major scales, can kinda read music (although i am slow at it) and know the main triad/chords.

I started playing mainly czerny/hanon/bergmuller and occasionally tried to work out songs by myself although would get frustrated within an hour and quit.

As of now my basic practice day is go through some scales to warm up or some hanon exercises. Then go to a basic czerny piece i am learning, then later on try and write something id like. I get frustrated because i am not sure whether learning pieces like czerny help me learn how to play/write songs like D'angelo,Marvin Gaye or Bon Iver. I then get frustrated because when i try to write my own music i feel like i cant play piano so go back to the czerny pieces and then get frustrated all over again - a vicious cycle.

My question is what is the best way to about achieving my goal? I understand a lot of time and patience, i just want to utilize my time best. I would love to play more jazz/blues/gospel piano as well.

Let me know guys and thanks in advance.

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#2301681 - 07/12/14 10:58 PM Re: Advice on best way to structure my practicing... [Re: MZCT]  
Joined: Mar 2012
Posts: 1,364
Sand Tiger Offline
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Sand Tiger  Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Joined: Mar 2012
Posts: 1,364
Southern California
I have been playing piano for about two years. I spend about half my piano time (one hour a day) writing original music. I came to piano with over ten years of experience writing melodies and lyrics as an amateur. I recently uploaded my 27th original piano composition. Many are at my blog (signature link). Mind you, these are beginner compositions, by a beginner pianist, but they are progress.

With that background, my suggestions might be to spend more time on learning real pieces in the styles that you like and the rest on actually writing music. I suggest limiting warm up, scales and other exercises to 10% or so of total practice time.

I suggest several composition exercises for beginners. One is to listen to a piece of music one time only. Try and duplicate the feel and rhythm, not the exact notes and chords. For a beginner, simplifications are often necessary. I often use simpler rhythms, one or two note harmonies. The goal is not to duplicate the piece of music, but to write a derivative piece in a similar style.

Another exercise for those that want to write modern pop songs, is to write music to another person's lyrics. There are places where there are lot of lyrics and if I go through them, some of them peak my interest and I try to write music to those lyrics. This is just an exercise. If it were a commercial venture, of course I would have to get permissions.

A third thing is to pick a key, and stay in that key, and improvise on that key. Start simple. A person might start with a simple ostinato (alternating two notes), or a simple ascending or descending run in that key, perhaps skipping a note or two in the scale, or adding a hitch to the rhythm of the otherwise smooth scale run.

Don't worry about the quality, just do free play for five to ten minutes at a time. There are no wrong notes or chords. It is all blue sky, no grumps allowed. If a phrase sounds interesting, repeat it. Then alter it slightly, then alter it a lot. This is basic composition, taking a motif (a short music phrase) and developing it. If a phrase doesn't sound so good, discard it, and move on.

The most important thing is to spend time on the task. Spend an hour a day actually writing music for 30 days, see where that gets you. Record the best bit for each day, and start the next day from there. Do an hour a day for 90 days in a row, and I promise you that you will have written some interesting music. You will likely amaze yourself and your friends.

I spend about half of my piano time on learning covers. When I started I couldn't play piano at all. I didn't know squat about harmony or counterpoint, having only written melodies. Could not sight read at all. All this limited what I might attempt. By learning covers, a composer can deconstruct known scores and use similar building blocks in their own composition.

For pop songs, if in doubt about chord progressions, go with the simple, the cliche or the first inversion of the cliche. For most pop songs, double for country songs, the melody line, the lyrics, are what tend to be memorable. There are thousands of top songs with only a few basic chords. Many more can be simplified to four chords. Again, as a person gets better, they can go deeper, but simple is the way to start.

If a person can't write simple, complexity will tend to just translate into a bigger piece of not-so-good. Most composers write a lot of so-so music when they start out. Some songwriters say that only after the first 100 songs does a person get a feel for the craft. Yes, a few legends wrote their hits early, but the rest of us have to work on it. Anyone asking for advice, likely isn't a natural, and will likely have to spend a lot of time.

It is doubly difficult when a person doesn't play the instrument that well, and he/she wants to play their compositions live (not via midi or electronic means). Again, simple can be a beginner's friend.

So to recap my suggestions: limit any scales and Czerny to 10% of practice time. Learn some covers of songs that you like. Spend the rest of your time on actual composition. This can be with some of the exercises I suggested: trying to match the mood of a known piece after one listen, writing to another person's lyrics, or more free form writing at the instrument. Early on, record the best of each day's original work and start the next day from there. Spend time on the task. Write music every day for 30 days in a row, and then 90, and you will have written some interesting music.

Good luck on your journey. As always, there are few rights or wrongs in music, especially writing music. Some may cringe at my suggestions, just as I might flinch when I read how others are approaching the task. That's okay, there are a lot of roads to Rome.

Last edited by Sand Tiger; 07/12/14 11:25 PM.
#2301689 - 07/12/14 11:28 PM Re: Advice on best way to structure my practicing... [Re: MZCT]  
Joined: Mar 2013
Posts: 3,124
earlofmar Offline
3000 Post Club Member
earlofmar  Offline
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Joined: Mar 2013
Posts: 3,124
Great question and I wish I could answer it well but I am neither a teacher, great pianist, or great composer, so I only have my two cents worth.

Before taking up piano twenty months ago I had spent a lifetime playing acoustic guitar but I never wanted to learn any piece by others instead only playing my own small self compositions. As a consequence of not stretching myself to learn works by others I had no base of reference for composition neither did I develop a greater mastery of the instrument. My compositions could also have been so much better if I had greater understanding of music theory.

However since starting to learn piano I have been amazed at how sometimes a small section of a piece can inspire me to want to take if further and write something utilising the same style (ok what I really mean in plagiarize). I actually have to hold myself back sometimes as this conflicts with my true goals which do not include writing at this time. I guess you could get this urge to write from any grade level, should you find the inspiration, but I am finding that only as my technical ability is advancing so to is the likelihood that I might write something that satisfies me.

Therein must be a great debate in the composition world, do you have to be a master of your instrument to be a great song writer? My opinion is obviously yes, even although it has never stopped many highly successful writers, but the songwriters of my generation I admire were all good musicians many of them classical trained before entering into mainstream music. With that in mind I would say in order to get the inspiration you are seeking you will need more experience at the piano. Exposure to as much repertoire and different styles as possible would be key. Hanon & some Czerny are usually tools for those wishing to advance technique but I have doubts whether they are suitable for your goal and the time could be better spent on repertoire. If you want to play more jazz, blues and gospel well why not start now, there is graded repertoire in all of those styles. Personally I would recommend you continue with learning classical music but that is my bias. I bought a CD recently by a progressive rock band called Glasshammer. One track stands out to me as it has the fingerprints of Bach all over it. If you look deeper into it popular music it is riddled with classical references.

If you are not doing so already given your goal, have you considered courses in composition? In the age of online courses it has never been easier. Best of luck.

Problems with piano are 90% psychological, the other 10% is in your head.

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#2303519 - 07/17/14 09:00 PM Re: Advice on best way to structure my practicing... [Re: MZCT]  
Joined: Mar 2014
Posts: 24
MLFLY Offline
Full Member
MLFLY  Offline
Full Member

Joined: Mar 2014
Posts: 24
It took you an hour to get frustrated? I can do that in 10 minutes or less! You're obviously far ahead of me.

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#2304191 - 07/19/14 08:22 PM Re: Advice on best way to structure my practicing... [Re: MZCT]  
Joined: Jun 2014
Posts: 148
Art_Vandelay Offline
Full Member
Art_Vandelay  Offline
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Joined: Jun 2014
Posts: 148
Stillwater, OK
As another poster already suggested, your practice seems at odds with your goals as a pianist. You want to write pop songs for your friends, but your practice regimen seems to be focused on technical development for classical repertoire. Not to mention that many people (myself including), consider Hanon pretty much worthless for achieving good technique.

"If peeing your pants is cool, consider me Miles Davis."

"If life gives you lemonade, make lemons. Life'll be all like whaaaaaat?" - Phil Dunphy
#2304207 - 07/19/14 09:21 PM Re: Advice on best way to structure my practicing... [Re: MZCT]  
Joined: Dec 2010
Posts: 2,206
rnaple Offline

Silver Supporter until April 24 2014
rnaple  Offline

Silver Supporter until April 24 2014

Joined: Dec 2010
Posts: 2,206
Rocky Mountains
You might try this: Artistry Alliance
She teaches much understanding of music. Written by both her and her husband. In the book: Patterns for Piano. They start you right out studying patterns and writing patterns. Get your mind training in the right direction from the bottom up.

Your brain is a sponge. Keep it wet. Mary Gae George
The focus of your personal practice is discipline. Not numbers. Scott Sonnon
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#2304304 - 07/20/14 08:12 AM Re: Advice on best way to structure my practicing... [Re: MZCT]  
Joined: Jun 2011
Posts: 1,129
Ataru074 Offline
1000 Post Club Member
Ataru074  Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Joined: Jun 2011
Posts: 1,129
Houston, TX
You need a teacher. with your target, possibly more than one.

Reading a book is different from having somebody explaining it to you and that is how humanity did progress. You are trying to re-invent the wheel while your colleagues are trying to fly to Mars. The basic structure of a pop song can be explained and mastered in few weeks, not years.
Sorry for sounding harsh but in 14 months (as an adult) you should have been able to recite the circle of fifth, all 7 classic modes, most of the classical style progressions and having a good knowledge of voice leading techniques. This for your theory/composition skills.
Playing is a different skill set, theory does help, a lot, because you will understand the music in a different way and you will see connections that a player without theory knowledge simply can't see. The neuromotor skills develop over time but with somebody helping you to develop in an equilibrate way is the best way to improve quickly.

The only thing that we don't have in abundance is time, we do have one life and the countdown is always ticking... get a teacher and stop wasting time.

#2306380 - 07/24/14 09:28 AM Re: Advice on best way to structure my practicing... [Re: MZCT]  
Joined: Dec 2012
Posts: 21
Greg Lloyd Offline
Full Member
Greg Lloyd  Offline
Full Member

Joined: Dec 2012
Posts: 21

Sounds like you are working a lot on the scales and exercises more than just having fun on the piano. Great you are writing music! That's awesome!

When I practice I do a warm up of varies scales and exercises. Then I do the stuff I don't want to do first. The hard stuff and reward myself with the fun stuff.

It is easy to get into a practice and keep practicing the same stuff - sounding amazing - however a lot of people forget that a good practice is when you sound crap. That's when you are working and learning the most.

If you are looking to do Jazz/Blues I really recommend that you work on your ears!! Get a program like : Earmaster . This will open up your ears so you can work out all the Jazz/blues stuff by ear.

There are not that many written Jazz books as piano arrangements that are any good. Please correct me if I am wrong wink I use the ABRSM Jazz piano series with my student to introduce them to Jazz. This series have nice piano arrangements in them. Very true to the genre.

Hope this helps,



Email - greg@greglloydmusicschool.com

Website - greglloydmusicschool.com

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