Sunday, July 31, 2011

How To Play Anything

Reading music is a major part of playing the piano by ear.  Ideally, you want to look at any lead sheet with chords and make your own arrangement.  The Ultimate End Game is to quickly interpret and play any song that is written; familiar or not.

The best music in your future is stuff you don’t know.  You can only go so far as a musician until you master this skill so focus on  learning it well, early in your training. 

How Do You Figure Out Songs You’ve
Never Seen or Heard Before?  

Suppose you pick up a jazz REAL book that has about a thousand songs with lead lines and chords.  Besides playing chords, there are two things required to figuring out a song;

Counting and Reading a Composer's Intent.

Within the pages of a score (or  even a simple lead sheet) there are many signs of intent to size-up.

Does it appear fast?  Is it easy to count?  Is the beat-note tempo in line with the verse meter?  Do the lyrics affect melody phrasing?  How fast should it be?  Is there something unique?  Why is it in 2/2 vs 4/4?

My membership into the Hidden Universe lets me evaluate composer intent in seconds.  I’m always looking for unique, creative streaks but overall, once you read thousands of pieces you see a lot of the same intent over and over.

Where to Begin?

The tendency is to locate and play songs in the book that you already know but that’s a very small percentage of the overall book.  Of the songs you know, you may not like them or they may be in hard keys to play.  However, as you page through the REAL book you see lots of songs in C, F and G that you could play if you only knew how they went.

This is where most people stop because it just seems too hard.   Well, get over it!  Everything's hard when you don't understand it.  Study and master counting and take command of this crucial skill.

Make Up Your Mind 
 To Be a Good Musician

That means you don't run at the first sign of adversity.  If you want fast progress, follow the Yellow Brick Road and master counting. 

Fake books contain the best songs ever written; jazz and popular standards; songs that have stood the test of time.   

Those are the songs you want to learn.

Most people, however stop before they start because of poor counting skills. There comes a time, after bypassing all the songs you don't know, that it becomes obvious to you that really, you don’t know anything about figuring out written songs.

When you master counting, the entire musical world opens up to you.  You realize it is the key to figuring out anything and unlocks a limitless musical library

All You Need To Know 

Counting is a limited discipline in either half or quarter beats.  The following equation is where it begins and ends:

One Beat is counted: 
1 + (one-and) or 1e+a (one-E-and-uh).

That’s it!  The big secret.  Spend an afternoon studying music pieces that you know and don’t know and figure it out.  Take the time to school yourself in this master skill now, early.  Explore the questions you have along the way.  Find answers that satisfy your questions.

While rhythms are endless, the equation 1+ equals 1e+a is the full science you need to concentrate on.  When you actively look, there comes a point when the light goes on and everything falls into place.

Chords PLUS Counting 

Playing chords to your own arrangement is part of it but you won’t be able to go anywhere until you figure out how the song goes.  That means you have to be able to play an accurately-counted, one-note melody line of the song with your right hand.  That’s a REQUIRED skill.

Once you’ve got the one-note rhythm and melody down in your head, all you have to do is add chords and voila, a song is born.  You must learn to count accurately as a second nature.

To fly high you can't get there by winging it.”


Joseph Pingel is a pianist, teacher and musicologist.  Click here to get the free companion book to this blog.  See his other sites at and 

© 2011 Keyed Up Inc

No comments:

Post a Comment