Monday, March 20, 2023 by Becky Reesor | Interview
Piano practice nurtures my inner core, my well-spring of life. Like sit ups, it lends stability. I love music, so it is a wholesome source of pleasure.
There's no quick fix. Throw out the successful, final dream scene. This is “never” going to be fast effortless flowing music as when I was younger. I accept it.
I tell myself:
"Pick up your hands. Lay them evenly over the keyboard. Handle bar palms. Scissor fingers. Curving tips. Now practice. Practice again. This will take a long time, and lots of communication. No guilt. No knuckle rapping. Stay calm. Carry on."
New patterns become the norm: the power, the delight, the knowledge that I can make things happen. Careful attention to finger positioning is like being more objective with daily decisions. I pause. I think more carefully first. It's like a finishing school to polish you up: a perspective of listening and problem-solving.
I've come to drop my defences and just be present as I am. I'm discovering that less effort gives you more song. It's staying closer to the keys, rather than rushing and running away for errands. It's learning to accept the attention of someone listening to you play it again, again and again, soaking in the goodwill of being seen.
Tuesday, September 6, 2022 by Becky Reesor | Interview
As a child, cartoon and commercial music caught her attention in a snap. The familiar music called and she ran to join in, singing.
“I noticed that it was more what the cartoons did," Johanne describes, "that they had music to amplify what was happening.” And so began Johanne's life-long love of music.
Her favorite musical memories are those of the Ed Sullivan show, and hearing the organ. She describes a concert at her childhood school, “…at one point, it became a train. I heard everything — It blew my mind! How was she doing it? I thought - me, I would like to play like that.” Today, Johanne dreams of performing music she loves for family and friends. Her most loved tune is Color My World, and she adores Elvis's music.
“I always wanted to learn (piano), but for one reason or another, it didn’t happen. I listened to music all the time… all the time.I was always drawn to it. It made me feel good.”
Johanne’s love of music never wavered. At 58, after a career as a cook, she began her first piano lessons. It’s not easy starting at that age, but she said, “If I can’t do it, it’s no big deal and at least I’ll have tried.”
“I liked it right away… and I developed a sort of respect for pianists.”
What an eye-opener. Over her lifetime, her hands had learned to master the art of making delicious food. Now she was slowly and patiently teach them to make music. The process was gratifying, exciting and humbling all at the same time. “I realized a lot of things. Like, the easier something looks… the more I say - hey, there are hours behind that!’”
And her work pays off. She opens her books and enjoys playing the music inside. “I’m really having fun. It’s my time. No matter what’s going on, I forget everything else and I’m in the music.”
Working to develop her skills, she spends at least an hour a day. Why? “Because it’s fun to play,” she says. “Because I hear my music. Because I learn what I want to play.”
“I do it for myself. Because I feel like it! It’s for me, no matter what anyone else thinks.”
People have wondered why she wants to spend so much time learn piano at her life stage. But her way of looking at it keeps her going. “I have a brain and I’m capable to learn! If I’m shown patiently, I’m sure I’ll be able to. Either way, I’ll find out.”
After 4 years of piano lessons, Johanne is a proficient reader and has recently performed an arrangement of Gymnopédie No. 1 by Eric Satie. She can chord and learn by ear, and is learning to improvise. She’s always learning more how scales and chords are used in each piece she learns, and is gaining control of her piano technique. It’s soon time to tackle one of her main goals: having “Color my world,” by Chicago in her performance repertoire.
I asked what she would say to anyone on the fence about starting to learn piano. She said, “If it’s something you really want, do it. Go for it. For me it’s been positive. It’s so fun. Above all with a good teacher.”
Saturday, June 12, 2021 by Becky Reesor | Musician's Artistry
It’s a pretty amazing feeling - expressing yourself at the piano. It feels horrible when your fingers, arms and head are all tied up in knots. We can get so caught up focussing on the technical side. Even with music flowing in the imagination, trying to keep track of it all while playing can just lead to brain overload. The piece might even be played well, but feel like it never quite flows or comes to life no matter how many times it's practiced. It’s strange: concentrating on the "how-to" can really get in the way. At times, technical difficulties can actually be solved by focussing on what the music should sound like.
There are always the fundamentals — both for the physical how-to and for musical interpretation — but they aren’t the goals. They are the foundation.
At some point it’s time to recognize that you’ve established them, and get started on letting your own voice ring through.
Music expresses emotion, character, concept, personality, narrative, etc... and how? By the way in which notes relate to each other through rhythm, pitch and volume (bear with me here). We also experience the world through how things relate to each other. For example, the sound and feeling of ocean waves has a particular regularity in how they feel (rhythm) and sound (pitch and volume). Popping popcorn also a predictable feel and sound. If I ask you to find the sound of these images on the piano, you could likely find a way to represent those images. Without much effort, you’d process how fast/slow, long/short, high/low, loud/soft the notes should be compared to each other.
Now think of the vast repertoire each of us hold in terms of emotions (happy/sad/angry/tired), atmospheres (misty, sunshiny, busy), sounds (speech, nature or urban sounds) and storytelling. We are experts in expression! We just need practice letting it out at the piano.
Practicing this is actually quite simple. Just finish the sentence:
"Play it as if….."
Whichever way you finish the sentence, it will activate your repertoire of knowledge of how things relate to each other, and your imagination will kick in to influence how you play notes to resemble this image. The only catch is you have to put in the effort to really believe you see or feel the image you are choosing. Otherwise it’s just another busy brain exercise.
Literally, this influences how your fingers interact with the keys, which is super cool. By applying what you already know about everything in life, you can discover new sound and technical possibilities in a way that is totally unique to you, and your experience of the world. The sounds that emerge are 100% your artistic expression!
I have some examples for you to try on your own -- remember that this is super open-ended. I encourage you to just throw random images at yourself to really see what sounds come out! In a lesson, your teacher might strategies the images, but there's a lot of value in just being outrageous.
3 Steps to implement this in your home practice:
3 Example idea lists for ADULTS
1. Play as if you are playing under water…
.. in a still, murky pond.
.. deep amidst strong currents.
.. in an effervescent natural pool.
2. Play as if you are…
.. telling the story to children.
.. trying to recall each moment from the depths of you memory.
.. a courageous warrior at battle; or a hummingbird flitting about; or alone & abandoned.
3. Play as if you can feel…
.. thick lava flowing throughout the veins in your body.
.. cold winds whipping all around you.
.. down feathers beneath your fingers, hands & arms.
3 Examples idea lists for KIDS:
1. Play as if you are:
.. happy, sad, angry, tired, mysterious or excited
2. Play like a…
.. sloth, cheetah, elephant or butterfly
3. Play as if you are:
.. running away
.. relaxing on the trampoline
.. flying through the sky!
Have fun... surprise yourself :)
Saturday, June 12, 2021 by Becky Reesor | DocuVlog
Saturday, February 29, 2020 by Becky Reesor | Music Tools
Even professional pianists want to always accomplish more in a shorter amount of time. Whatever your skill level, define the purpose of your practice at each moment. In this video I explain to a student how to split their practice into "analysis" versus "rehearsal" modes. This way they will learn to both fix mistakes and be more confident in delivering a performance without stutters and hiccups.
Sunday, August 18, 2019 by Becky Reesor | Music Appreciation