This Article is About
chord progressions
last decade
playing the piano
pressure cooker
pop songs
repetitions
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I listen to my recordings of myself playing the piano. At first (back in the audio-cassette era) it gave me painful proof that the bliss I felt in playing was not translating into good music—it was something else. Without any musical talent I had kept playing the piano as therapy—always alone, always unprepared. I would sit on the bench, start banging out chords C, d min, F, G, around and around, nothing else—I felt good playing it. I was exhorting my brain to dwell and delve in fantasia, to dispel my demons and restore the peace.

But rather than ruin it for me, the playbacks held the reality up to me—I wasn’t listening to what I was doing, I was completely detached from the piano. My escapism worked by the busy-ness of my rote repetitions, not by their sound. Also, I was made aware that I was indeed making a sound—and it wasn’t a barrier, it was an unused potential. So I started to listen to what I was doing—and I began to go beyond the barren 1-4-5 of pop songs’ harmonies.

Once my chord progressions began to grow, it became more and more apparent that I couldn’t do anything much with just chords, that a melody is a great part of what people enjoy when they listen to music. So, for the last decade I have been struggling to introduce a melodic line into my piano improvisations. Too much concentration on the music cancels the meditative experience—just as being too meditative results in something plain and stupid to listen to. And melodies are the most conscious part of music—they are the thread that brings everything to a specific whole—and that makes Melody the hardest to do as part of ‘automatic playing’, or as I think of it, meditation-at-the-piano.

So, in one sense, I doubt my recordings will ever be seen as pop music—but in another sense, the value in my ivory-tickling is the opposite of pop. The Popular Music industry is a pressure cooker—it is a job of hard work and no mistake. It can even kill the freshness and joy that prompted the original songs and transform music-making into drudgery. My practice has zero financial value and is therefore, all mine—I don’t please an audience, I don’t put on a show, I don’t meet deadlines or studio-time inconveniences or drop-by-dates. It is therapy, plain and simple—or, put another way, it is high-quality ‘me’ time.

But, all that aside, I find myself more and more pleased with the occasional recording that seems almost as good as music. This is dangerous, since the moment I begin to compare myself to musicians, the jig is up. So there is a certain trepidation that accompanies these increasingly frequent moments of musicality—I’m trying to take care of my emotional health, to have fun—nothing would kill that quicker than becoming a musician in my own mind—especially now, when my dexterity fades more and more each day.

The trouble is, anyone with half a brain that happens to play the piano compulsively, daily, for forty years is bound to come up with one or two good ideas—nothing to challenge Lennon & McCartney, of course, but good enough to tempt the ego into glossing over the entirety of its reality. So my pretense of playing peek-a-boo with my unconscious, letting things flow along like a wending stream, is increasingly at risk of flowing hard enough to make a gutter, a musical rut that will end all my fun.

I do have some strong support. My memory, for instance, can be relied on to store almost nothing—and this saves me from the sensation that I’ve become repetitive and predictable. My mental focus, too, sends me to the showers long before I have a chance to make a ‘big play’, i.e. writing a complete song or anything like that. And my emotional instability distracts me from sticking to any activity for days at a time—every morning is its own little reset button.

Still, the time is endless—I’m unemployed, disabled, ‘OC’ over the piano, and I record virtually all of my sessions and hear them back and think about the what-ifs the recording suggests to my ear. Some of these recordings are virtually indistinguishable from normal music—it’s a problem.


Street Talk

Been a while but I'm back. Quite the paradox you have there my friend! But your prose is eloquent. I love your wtriting. They cant take away from you! i am a "player" but, different instrument, Drums. I am proficient and play professionally, but my love of music and melody will not let me stop there. I have struggled with my own ventures into song writing and collaboration. (the later is more satisfying as SOME folks are just born poets or songwriters) it is an innate talent, i believe. None the less...your personal enjoyment is the thing. I will never be Elvin Jones or Buddy Rich, but recently discovered singing and that I can pull it off adequately (within my range and song set) very enjoyable and get my melodic reward that way. People seem to enjoy it. The gentleman i work with keep me infused with new and undiscovered music - so, its a live and very motivating thing for me everyday. Keep up the precious and good work. because i know (only too well) the feeling, reward and pleasure you receive from music. "Without music, life would be an error" - Nietzsche

Reply
  about 8 years ago

Thanks for the kind remarks, Sent Jumpin', I always appreciate it when someone reads my stuff. And as for collaboration, I would be happy to try and make up some words for your song ideas--do a google-search on xperdunn and you will find my blog--send a message. Can't really share links on this StArticles site...

Reply
  about 8 years ago

hey Chris, Very fun sir and insightful and choice of material is very nice ive seen so far. will go back and hear some more . put JazzByTwo (spelled like that) in your browser and thats our new site I built . you can see what i'm up to there. its been a while since ive picked up my original stuff to work on. Now you've got me thinking and may have to dust a few things off. Nice chatting again Chris Ciao!

  
  about 8 years ago
Randy7  

"It is therapy, plain and simple—or, put another way, it is high-quality ‘me’ time." You need no further justification than this !! There are many who probably find themselves in a semi-similar situation in their use of music for therapy. I enjoyed listening to you talk about music which you are so passionate about !! For awhile now, I have a secret friend I play music with, It is my metronome and together we experience going beyond time without losing track of it, I recommend you try it, it makes that special me time even more rewarding !!!

Reply
  about 9 years ago

Thanks, good idea. My new E-Piano has one built in. I remember a friend told me about a guy who loved music and just couldn't play the violin to save his life. He took a more practical approach in that he studied the instrument's manufacture and now runs one of the world's premiere lutheries. And speaking of Lutherie, check out electricviolinlutherie_DOT_com (StreetArticles doesn't allow links in the comments). Thanks for reading....

Reply
  about 9 years ago
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