My In-depth project has seen great progress in the last two weeks. I did record myself at the beginning of January, playing some pieces that Chris (my mentor) gave me to practice, but plan on storing it away in the archive until the end of the project. Instead, I recorded one of the pieces I’m playing with our jazz combo in preparation for the Jazz Gala: Autumn Leaves (here’s a link to a professional recording). The combo’s recording is below:
(Sorry for the awful recording quality – the only device I had was my phone)
I improvised in a section of the piece, and it was a rather daunting task. The keyboard in front of me suddenly seemed like a mass void, with an endless amount of possibilities that I could undertake. Since my combo practice days are on the same day as my jazz piano lessons with Chris, I made sure to ask him if he had any tips on how to improvise.
We covered a large amount of ground during our second lesson, including chord “voicings” (arranging the notes of a chord so they sound better), a new piece called “Blue Bossa”, and improvisation. The first time I was making things up on the spot, I had a similar feeling to when I was improvising with the combo: I often felt lost, and lost track of where I was in the music – improvisations still occur over a steady chord progression often played by the left hand. Then, my mentor, sensing this, offered a piece of advice that was very helpful. He told me to slow down, and focus on small melodic patterns to repeat and transpose. That way, I could actually know what I was playing, rather than just using random notes like I had been doing previously. Afterward, my changed approach to improvising was much better. I was still playing spontaneously, yet I had a clear vision of what I was playing. Another thing I learned was that the skill of being able to improvise comes through practice. In just a few weeks, my skills have improved enormously through continuous repetition. But practicing isn’t necessarily very boring and laborious – improvising means that I’ll play something completely different each time.
Below are the three aspects of How to Have a Beautiful Mind we were to focus on:
- How to agree: in the first two lessons, my mentor has been giving me a lot of information about jazz piano and some basic skills. I often try to find particular points that I find interesting and give my own take on it. I believe that this will help my mentor know I am listening to him, and also help enrich my own learning. At times, my mentor did mention some basic theory knowledge that I learned several years ago, and I found it slightly annoying. However, I then tried to consider that he didn’t know me and my knowledge base very well, and had to make sure that I understood basic concepts. It also helped me review some basic terminology!
- How to disagree: I haven’t been in any big situation with my mentor yet where I’ve disagreed with him. The only instance I remember is when he was speaking about my eminent person (Glenn Gould), and stated a few common misconceptions and generalizations about a famous story about Gould. I considered pointing it out to him, but ultimately decided against doing it, as it wouldn’t have proved anything, and we had just met. Also, I noticed that he was reading a biography about Gould, so perhaps the story will pop up in there!
- How to differ: Again, I haven’t had any differences with my mentor. I do envision possible differences in the future arising over our interpretations of pieces – this could be due to our different musical backgrounds (classical and jazz). I think that it should be averted fairly easily, since no interpretation is wrong in music. I believe I can listen to my own opinions, but also listen carefully to my mentor’s, since he is more experienced in the field of jazz piano.
Month 1: Over!
“Life is a lot like jazz… it’s best when you improvise.”