Monday, July 21, 2008

Using my iPod as a learning tool

My iPod was missing. In fact, it had been three months since I'd seen it. I missed it horribly, like a lost dog. I had come to accept never seeing it again, and even began shopping for a replacement. But I couldn't pull the trigger; I was horrified to learn how expensive new iPods are. Apple keeps improving them, and charging more and more for the improvements (go figure).

So imagine my delirious relief when, in the midst of looking for some nail clippers in my bag the other day, I found it, folded neatly in a folded, laminated 3" x 5" pamphlet of the Think Client Value Questioning Model. Clearly, I am not referring to this pamphlet often enough.

It was jarring to see what was on the iPod. "Dancing Queen? Funkytown? Who put those on there?"* Equally jarring was what was absent. Nothing from The Killers, The Nationals, Death Cab for Cutie, or Airborne Toxic Event? Had I not even heard of these groups when I lost the iPod? Has it been THAT long? It seems like I'd been listening to some of that stuff for months, but evidently not. So I spent an hour or so flushing old stuff, and added the new. And it was at this point that my iPod became my newest piano-learning tool.

* - Sue reminds me that I put these on there myself. Our children requested them. I originally left this detail out, as I didn't want to throw them under the bus like that.

I added Limbo.

Hear it for yourself (not my performance, mind you, but the composer himself, live, in concert):

Einaudi - Limbo - Ludovico Einaudi

I spent a couple hours yesterday introducing myself to page one (of four) of Limbo. I marked it up with all sorts of remarks and warnings to myself, and translated some of those off-the-scale notes into a letter I could recognize. (Wish I was better at this.) At the risk of sounding simple and naive, it was a true thrill when I played the first chords. My mind said something along the lines of, "Holy cow, that sounds like Einaudi music, only it's coming from Ole Bessie, not the kids' CD player!" *

* - For a couple of months now, Jillian, Jason, and Rowan have been falling asleep to an Einaudi CD I made for them. Subliminally, I am creating either great affinity for, or violent aversion to, modern piano music. Not sure which it is, but they seem to like it so far.

What I was doing was this. I listened to a phrase, played it by myself (many, many times, with lots of repetitions), then listened to it again, trying to accompany the track at tempo. I was basically unsuccessful at this, hitting just a fraction of the real notes, but that's ok, since the recording did a good job of hitting the ones I was missing. This approach has the added benefit of confusing those within earshot. "Wow, is that you playing that?" I'd be interested in knowing if any of you have used this approach when learning new pieces.

Limbo itself, as many of you have told me, does not seem to be that difficult. Just a handful of LH chords (I count six, give or take one or two), with the RH doing arpeggios on those chords. I am sure a seasoned piano player could get through it in an hour or two. For me, the transitions between notes are new and unnatural. I am going to have to actually learn / memorize them, and I could see it taking a month or so, depending on how much practice time I put in. That should be just about when we move into the new house (did I mention... I did, right?) It's also a new key for me, the key of Whatever-It-Is-That-Uses-Three-Flats. If I ever get a piano teacher, we're going to have some elementary music theory to rehash, that's for sure. And while I see why Sawtooth regards Limbo as exercise, unlike traditional exercises (scales, arpeggios, Hanons), I thoroughly enjoyed my first pass at it. Can't wait to work on it some more.

But there's more. This is going to be very difficult for me to explain, partly because I lack the words to describe it, and partly because I don't totally understand it myself. But here goes.

Even after two hours, I can already see that this music isn't composed of notes to be played, per se, but patterns to be realized, tweaked, and revisited. Sure, the patterns are made of notes, but the notes aren't what it's all about, any more than bricks and stones are what our new house is all about. The music feels like it is composed of shapes, and the shapes have variations. Limbo takes these shapes, gives them different colors, adds a new edge / vertex, then maybe examines the new (but nevertheless recognizable) shape from a different angle. At the end, you return to the original perspective, and look at the shapes you started with, but you see them differently, based on where the music took you to that point. When I come to understand the shapes, I'll have a better sense for the variations, and I'll be able to play the music, rather than just the notes. I like my chances.

I'll spare you the customary, polite "Does that make sense?" because I presuppose that it does not. It doesn't really to me, either. I'll understand if you roll your eyes, and conclude "Oh, heaven help us, AWTPP has gone all psychedelic on us, I hope he gets help soon." My feelings won't be hurt. But FWIW, that last paragraph is an accurate reflection of what it feels like to try to play Limbo, and to listen to it after having tried to play it. Maybe all music (or all good music) is that way, and I just haven't realized it yet. But with Limbo, this is now really obvious to me.


Samantha said...

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sawtooth said...

Great to hear you started Limbo.

The hardest part for me to learn was the right hand part beginning at measure 23-30 (it repeats a bit again later as well).

Being on a road trip left me away from the piano for a few days. It will be interesting to play Limbo later and see how I do.