9.17.2014

Piano Off the Page Class

I had my first class piano lesson last night. It is called Piano Off the Page, and it is basically a piano improvisation class through the University of Wisconsin Extension (Continuing Studies Program).

There are four people in the class, including me, but not including the teacher (she makes five). We each get to play on a real feel piano with weighted keys and we have headphones on so our biffery is not made public to the entire group.

I really enjoyed the first class and I think the skill level is a good fit for me. Basically, over six weeks, we will take four or five pretty easy but well know songs (Amazing Grace, Danny Boy, House of the Rising Sun, etc.) and learn to improvise on them, given only the melody line and the chord progression.

Already, after the first class, I feel like I made good progress. We just focused on roots and fifths of the chords. The songs are so easy and the melodies are so recognizable, that it simplifies the technical aspect of actually playing the songs and allows me to think about the improvisation part of it a lot more.

I had been taking private lessons for a while to learn jazz, and even though I liked the teacher, I was getting very frustrated because he was giving me very technically advanced songs to learn and they were ones that I was not as familiar with, so I spent a lot of time and energy just learning the songs and had very little brain bandwidth left for improvising. Basically, he was pushing me too hard and I couldn't make progress so I felt like I was failing.

But this class starts very basic and is for people with rudimentary piano skills, like me. The keys of the songs are ones with a lot of white keys and the melodies are easy to read and embellish. I can work on proper fingering too.

With these simple recognizable songs, I can actually think about expanding what I can do with the keyboard. So I am looking forward to the remaining classes and practicing some more.

That said, I have to miss next Tuesday's class because I am going to see King Crimson at the Barrymore Theater with a buddy, Bryon, who is coming to town. The teacher said we can play catchup on the missed material, which will focus on bass lines next week. As a decent bass player, I understand bass lines. But I understand them on bass, and piano is a different animal for me, so I still feel like I could benefit from the class material.

I biked to the class last night, but I won't be able to do that for long. It gets dark a lot earlier, and I think we put the clocks back an hour soon. Plus, it is getting colder outside.

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