Music Learning Notes 21/06/2020

The previous version of this blog, I’d just been posting notes about what I was listening to, and posting my music practice notes on But I’m using that site for my hypertext project now, and I like to have progress notes, so I’ll do that here. I’ll likely be posting more notes about my music practice than about the music I’m listening to. Which makes such a refreshing change from previous years.

My feet are very firmly set on the path towards better musicianship now. I’m seeing 2020 as the year I finally fricking became a musician after 25 years, which is saying something about this fraught musical journey that comes with massive self-doubt, various obstacles and long periods of just…giving up. I don’t intend to give up again. It’s like I found a calling that has always been there, but I’d been too afraid to pick up the phone. I’ve probably mixed too many metaphors there.

That said, I’m pretty low-key on the music-learning front these days. I’ve been relatively consistent with my music practice since the year began, but work’s been intense (I was slammed with three sets of peer-reviews for three articles at nearly the same time ffs, whaaat?), life’s been intense, and I sprained my thumb so terribly I took more than a week off to let my hand recover. Before that happened, however, I’d memorized Lagrima.

Right now I’m slowly playing Lagrima to improve my phrasing, my timing and so I can play it rubato. CG Teacher #2 also gave me the Grade 5 trinity scales to practice so I’m working on the E Major and F Major scales right now while learning Adelita (the trills here are terrifying me a bit, but I’m in good hands so I’ll just plug away). It’s pretty much been Tarrega for the past two months. I’m starting to really enjoy his music and looking forward to the day, maybe two years from now when I’ll be able to play Caprichio Arabe.

Exam-wise, we agreed I’m around a Grade 6 but it would be safer for me to take the Grade 5 exams next year but the year after that, we might go for Grade 7. We’ll see. I don’t mind saving time since I’m long in the tooth, but this is all about the journey and not the destination, after all. I know I have to improve on my phrasing, to play more emotively and my timing’s improved but could be better.

Oh, I’ve also been playing Sobre las Olas by Juventino Rosas, the first piece I ever learned to sightread on my own, rather defiantly back in the `90s because I thought I shouldn’t be playing anything other than what I was supposed to be playing for class and it was just so delicious to learn something different for myself! That’s where I started learning how wonderful it was to sightread. It’s really lovely to play these pieces again and to delight in the fact that with increased skill and technique, I’m bringing something new to them.

We’re entering our third month of lessons now.

Piano-wise, I’ve decided not to rush through the JoyTunes modules mostly because I need to develop muscle memory for the piano. I’ve decided not to be disappointed in the simple, childlike tunes I have to play but to instead delight in them, in learning the tiniest bits of music theory implicit in nursery rhymes and pop songs I usually deride. So I’m at unit 23 right now. Since I started on January 1, that’s not such a bad thing!

I’ve also been playing piano sheet music. Having more or less slowly developed muscle memory for Petzold’s Minuet (often attributed to JS Bach), I’ve been enjoying the simplified version of JS Bach’s Sheep May Safely Graze, and today braved Air on a G String. Also been using the piano to learn how to build chords, understanding augmented chords, 7ths, even 9ths. It’s also great to talk to CG Teacher #2 about these things and he’s really great with music theory. Once he knew how keen I was to learn these things, he’s been teaching me a lot and it’s really good to have someone to whom I can actually ask these questions.

This means I’ve been freestyling on the piano a lot again but in an informed way now. Knowing what every note is, knowing what chords I’m playing or freestyling. I even took to making my own awkward arrangement of Cohen’s Hallelujah, though I’m really hearing Jeff Buckley’s voice in my head when I play it. Other songs I’ve been freestyling: A Little Respect by Erasure (on both piano and guitar, ha!), I Feel You by Depeche Mode (trying to duplicate dat raunchy bass on the lowest octave on the piano is fun). Tonight I freestyled by ear a cheeky little variation on JS Bach’s Musette.

When I think of how far I’ve come since January 1 2020, it’s a little mind-boggling. I did it a little bit at at a time, nearly every day (barring certain weeks when I just took breaks), for over six months. I’m excited to see what I can play after a year! I’m also definitely out of my composing rut. There are so many more colors and variations available to me now.

Before I start sounding like a bad salesperson for music theory, I’ll also note that I’ll likely only start piano lessons after this whole pandemic subsides, and I’ll only take piano exams after I’ve reached Grade 8 in CG. But we’ll see because I want to sit for the Trinity CG performance diplomas as well. For now, I’ll keep learning with JoyTunes while also playing scales and classical pieces from music books. I’ve been playing and composing on the piano for years without knowing what theory I was using, but now I’m really actually getting somewhere. Wish I hadn’t taken this long to make this decision but I’m not too old yet to get somewhere.

I’ll probably start composing for chamber music quartets, duos, trios first in a few years, then progress to …well, in my author bio I said for full orchestras. Nervous giggle. Tall order, tall ambition. But never give up on your dreams, right. And it gives me something to live for, beyond writing, beyond academia. Music has been my driving force, my comfort, my raison d’etre for so many years. It’s time to give something back, leave something behind. Music gives me far more joy than writing ever did.

Sheet Music Notes: I’ve been having all sorts of anxiety about the sheet music I ordered because I didn’t know if it would be delivered while we were in lockdown. But they were indeed delivered and placed safely in my office pigeonhole by the lovely office people!

I now have two more transcriptions of Bach’s Cello Suites for CG (John Duarte and Martin Hegel) (I also have Barrueco’s transcriptions of the three violin sonatas from a previous order, but they seem a bit above my level right now). I also got Julian Bream’s Guitar Library Vol. 1: The Baroque Era.

I’ll likely enjoy these books later on, but for right now I’m focused on Tarrega, playing older and very simple pieces by Sor, Carulli, Giuliani and Carcassi from my Grades 2-3 days to improve my phrasing and technique, and my rhythm. They’ve been great for warming up as well.

Sheet music and guitar method books I’ve ordered since we returned to work from lockdown: Christopher Parkening’s Method Books 1&2, Pumping Nylon (I have a pdf copy but I prefer physical copies), also the Trinity Grade 5 book for CG exam pieces (I’m so excited!). I know Parkening isn’t for everyone, but I happen to really enjoy his approach to classical guitar playing. It feels very old school in a sense, very “classical”, but there’s just something about it that appeals to me.

21/06/2020 Addendum —Also acquired from the Trinity bookshop: scales, arpeggios, exercises and exam pieces for the initial grade and grade 1. It’s humbling but necessary. I’m aiming for Grade 3 exams sometime in 2023-2024. I should have (HOPEFULLY, GEEZ) reached Grade 8 in Trinity Classical Guitar by then, and I’ve enough sight-reading/music theory knowledge that I can learn by myself quite easily. It’s developing the muscle memory and proficiency so I can learn to read/write music notation for piano and play more complex pieces that will take years. Years I’ve wasted because I’ve been dreading this very process of starting from scratch (when I’ve been playing by ear since childhood) — which I’m now enjoying because I am approaching it with humility and a desire to learn.

So that’s what I got myself for my 45th birthday 😉

Feature picture for this post taken by (c) Nin Harris All Rights Reserved.