Piano practice, the first month

July 17, 2021 by Lucian Mogosanu

Since it's no secret that I've decided to procure myself a piano -- or at least something which very closely resembles it in form and function -- I've made it a point of documenting my progress on the instrument as often and in as much detail as I possibly can. A documentation of which this blogpost is but a humble summary, yet which, much to the reader's annoyance, will be preceded by a hopefully not-that-long trip down memory lane. It's my own fault for putting this on hold for so long, so 'scuse me, but...

Two years before I started blogging, in 2003, after more than one year of taking my auditory organs back and forth through music from the '80s and '70s1, I picked up a cheap classical guitar, borrowed from one of my brother's college mates, and started playing. I was my eighth grade of school back then, the eighth grade being the one that ends with national exams, yet I was still spending hours on end "working" on the guitar, much of this "work" consisting of unguided dicking around, for sure, "playing with it", getting a feel of how it's actually like to make music rather than just listen to it. Looking back, this sounds like far from actual interest in the trade, except I also clearly remember getting my maths teacher at the time -- one Marian from Ferentari, bless his soul -- to show me the formal foundations of scales (and later, modes), 'cause somehow, through sheer coincidence I suppose, we were both interested in music and he knew maths.

I needn't go into further details about how much I spent on the guitar, and music in general, suffice it to say that by the end of 2005 I was happily doing jam sessions with the good folks downtown and by 2009 I was recording my own album, with my own guitar, microphone and computers, how else?! Meanwhile Big Mamou closed down, my album is nowhere to be found on the internets and I don't know what happened with most people, on account of everyone and their dog entirely moving to platforms. I mostly played the blues, the old one from the plantations, sung by Howlin' Wolf, by Bukka White and B.B. King, but going beyond that limited vocabulary2, I went everywhere I could, from the classics all the way to electronic music made with cheap synths with shitty keys, and since I was there, why not all these at the same time, and fuck jazz too3. And then around the end of 2012 I simply stopped, although I most certainly didn't stop listening.

Fast forward to Anno Domini 2021, last month about this time I was faced with the situation of interacting with a new instrument, more or less different from the old ones I'd played, yet similar in that it at least produces the same type of sounds, albeit in a slightly or even entirely different manner. Fortunately for me, Kawai must have foreseen this situation, because they so helpfully provided me with a few books, where I subsequently added a few more to ease the learning curve. I started with simple scales (C, F and G for now, yes, with both hands simultaneously) and continued with Burgmüller's Arabesque, which... you have to be kidding me, I didn't know what I was getting myself into. Still, after about four days of reaching for the edges of my abilities, I decided that La Candeur should be approachable along with scale practice, along with as little as possible dicking around4 to ease the boredom. The routine worked so well that in two weeks I also started studying Pastorale as a second piece and while I'm not quite yet ready to add more, there certainly is plenty of space there.

Unfortunately I'm far from being a cursive sheet reader, although Czerny's Op. 139 is helping here as a late addition to the practice schedule. Thus, I have to ingurgitate entire songs into my own internal representation of the piano, still distinct from the sheet representation, which I've successfully done with Burgmüller's La Candeur and have yet to fully do with Pastorale. I'm taking it step by step and thus far I can play La Candeur decently for my level, with the occasional stutter here and there and still requiring intense focus and separate exercises for each hand.

It comes as no surprise to me that coordinating the playing hands is by far the most difficult aspect of this piano thing. I can precisely feel the lack of ambidexterity, although you'd have thought that almost twenty-five years of typing on a QWERTY device (which supposedly puts more pressure on the left hand among the two) would have counted. No they don't, this thing is an entirely new thing that, upon being experienced, opens a whole new set of doors to be explored in the mental realm of music. The problem isn't even in fact of coordinating the two hands, but of coordinating the ten fingers in various positions on the eighty-eight-key claviature, positions which come in conjunction with the internal logic of the piece. These doors, they're not easy to open, but when I do open them, when I break through that which only yesterday was a thick wall, I realize that... well, there is no spoon, I suppose! The fingers of today listen to me just a bit better than the ones of yesterday, which only makes me more confident about tomorrow.

To conclude my summary: 'tis truly a pleasure to push through this endless river and to let it guide me according to its laws, to my abilities and to ultimately more than just the sum of its parts5. I'm not deluding myself that I'll be far from here in another month from now, but maybe in six, or if not in twelve... who knows! Let's see where it gets me.

  1. Some say that the peak year of rock was 1971, others think that it was '73, when the The Dark Side of The Moon, Houses of the Holy, Who Do We Think We Are, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Selling England by the Pound, Over-Nite Sensation and a whole lot of other albums were launched on the market. What do all these works have in common, other than the year of release?

    Imagine for a moment being there, in the midst of it all; making music with these guys, or just repairing their equipment, or even just listening to them in a concert. Holy hell, what times must have they been, times long gone and never coming back. At least we still have the music; broken by The Digital, ever harder to get a hold on in the world of corrupted and corrupting media, yet still there to be found by him who actually wants. 

  2. What are songs but musical stories, briefer or longer after each case, but regardless, largely resisting interpretation in this other language of ours.

    And then sure, when you add the lyrics... 

  3. Since we're here, and weirdly enough: I very much prefer the Tim Roth in The Legend of 1900 to the one in Pulp Fiction

  4. Which, while immensely useful when striving to bring forth the forces of creation, is entirely counter-productive this early on in the learning process.

    Speaking of which... I was recently watching this "Masterclass" by Christina Aguilera, a very talented singer, I'll agree. However, she's no teacher, since she was enticing the kids to just "feel" their stuff at the expense of organized practice, which is how I clearly remember I spent six months (six!) in 2003 learning a couple of very simple songs. So I completely advise against this particular "Masterclass" and regard it as potentially dangerous for the aspiring vocalist. And to be honest, I don't quite know about the whole "Masterclass" project itself. Lynch is there, but that doesn't say much, so careful! 

  5. The man was right, y'know, which makes the spurious attempts of various nobodies to lash at him all the more confusing. So let's put it here again, "in my own words", as they say.

    The old saying, "pathemata mathemata", is supposedly saying that knowledge follows from... experience, I suppose, although some would hastily translate πάθημα as suffering. I'm not much of a cunning linguist these days, so whatever, I'll add to this the Buddhist observation that all experience is suffering, especially if you're a self-proclaimed "enlightened" snowflake from the twenty-first century. This ain't the saying's point, though; the saying's in fact saying that knowldege necessarily follows from experience, which makes the reverse just as true: there's no sense in knowing, i.e. owning something, or at least claiming that you do, unless that knowledge is mediated by experience. No matter how fine a psychologist your psychology degree says you are, you cannot meaningfully study, say, the psychology of musical improvisation without the reflective act of improvisation and observation thereof. Any attempt to emulate or otherwise cut short this feedback loop will result in... well, in nothing in particular. You most likely call it "science", while I, from consistently correct observations, call it post-religion. Here we may agree to disagree, but we may not wage a debate on the truthfulness of this matter, not if we lack some shared ground upon which to discuss it, in which case I suppose it wouldn't even be necessary to debate all that much. Such works modern tribalism, I suppose.

    Speaking of nothing, do you happen to know which famous '80s song I was alluding to with the "cunning linguist" phrase? If you do, don't hesitate to leave a comment below! 

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