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Learning piano/keyboards

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
Since I know we have a few musical folks on the forum, I'd like some pointers. I have always wanted to be able to play keyboard instruments, but never put much time into practice, much less formal lessons. I have "played" them quite a bit for free-form music projects with friends, so my experience is mostly with improv type of stuff. I can read treble clef all right, but when I try to, I still think in terms of trumpet fingering, rather than notes or keys on the keyboard. I can't sight read bass clef at all, and my left hand is considerably less dextrous than my right when it comes to playing keyboards. Also, I've never thought of much but the melody in music, having always been second or first chair trumpet, which doesn't see much harmony time.

My goal is just to be able to play a keyboard (ideally a Rhodes piano, but more realistically it will be a MIDI controller with a hardware or software sampler or soft-synth, and sometimes a synth keyboard) with basic capacity for medium-easy pop songs. Eventually, I'd like to get proficient enough to do more technical improv stuff in the realm of Herbie Hancock or similar jazz/fusion/rock type stuff, and for more ambient work. I can think, (badly) scat-sing, or whistle improv'd notes along with a track pretty well, but putting them down in an instrument is quite another thing.

I guess my question is, what path I should take toward learning this that will get me where I want to be, while keeping me interested? I get bored pretty quickly with drills, but I assume some amount of that is going to be required. I also have pretty bad habits that I'll need to break/not reinforce. Are there any methods/books/programs/whatever anyone can recommend to get me started?

Finally, since I'd love to get an actual Rhodes or other hammer-type electric piano at some point, should I invest in a weighted keyboard to learn on? The vast majority of my playing will undoubtedly be on non-weighted keyboards/controllers, and weighted ones are pretty limited, unwieldy and take up a fair bit of space. For right now I will probably start out with my semi-broken Korg MS2000 (my friend says the DAC is probably fried) since I already have it and the keyboard part is fine, but I'd like something like the Novation Remote SL. I guess the question is, if you learn on unweighted plastic keyboards, how hard is it to play an actual hammer/lever instrument when you have access to one?

Thanks for any advice.
post #2 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by j View Post
I guess my question is, what path I should take toward learning this that will get me where I want to be, while keeping me interested? I get bored pretty quickly with drills, but I assume some amount of that is going to be required. I also have pretty bad habits that I'll need to break/not reinforce. Are there any methods/books/programs/whatever anyone can recommend to get me started?
Hello, one of the things I do for a living is teach private piano lessons. Perhaps this information can be helpful. I would engage the services of a really good keyboard teacher. Even though I have played music professionally for years, I still take lessons once a week. Find a teacher you like. Make sure they are knowledgeable in the areas of music you are interested. If they only love Chopin and think electronic music is a waste of time, they are probably not for you. The best teachers are the ones with real world experience, who won't just saddle you with strict academic rules. But, you need a teacher who is wise about the rules, so you can learn the craft. A good teacher can inspire you to play, and will be able to pass on techniques that will make playing easier and more fun.
Quote:
Originally Posted by j View Post
Finally, since I'd love to get an actual Rhodes or other hammer-type electric piano at some point, should I invest in a weighted keyboard to learn on? The vast majority of my playing will undoubtedly be on non-weighted keyboards/controllers, and weighted ones are pretty limited, unwieldy and take up a fair bit of space. For right now I will probably start out with my semi-broken Korg MS2000 (my friend says the DAC is probably fried) since I already have it and the keyboard part is fine, but I'd like something like the Novation Remote SL.
An actual Rhodes piano is a rare thing these days. I have fond memories of lugging the incredibly heavy 88 key model with the amp on the bottom. We used it to play High School dances and shows back in the early 80's. Of course that was only one of the keyboards--you had to also have an ARP synthesizer and an Organ, too! I notice some young bands now perform in clubs with vintage Rhodes Pianos, but this certainly going way beyond the call of duty these days. They are very fragile, go out of tune easily, and it would be difficult to find someone that could service one. The Rhodes Piano does, however, have a super cool sound! Most performers now use digital keyboards with Rhodes samples. Even Chick Corea, who made his name playing a Rhodes, uses a Yamaha synth with a Rhodes sound. However, a friend of mine who works for Steely Dan notes that The Dan still tours with a vintage Rhodes.
Quote:
Originally Posted by j View Post
I guess the question is, if you learn on unweighted plastic keyboards, how hard is it to play an actual hammer/lever instrument when you have access to one?
The most responsive action will be on an acoustic grand piano. Manufacturers such as Yamaha have come a long way in recent years in imitating the acoustic piano action. Some of the Clavinova keyboards actually have real wood keys, which does improve the response. A synth with a weighted, piano type action would be my second choice for practicing on, after an acoustic piano. Unweighted plastic keyboards have an action with a response much like an organ. In the early 1900's Josef Hofmann (one of the all-time greatest pianists) wrote, "Inasmuch as the force of touch and its various gradations are entirely irrelevant on the organ, the pianist who plays much on the organ is more than liable to lose the delicacy of feeling for tone-production through the fingers, and this must, naturally, lessen his power of expression." You can interpret this as you see fit... Good Luck!
post #3 of 15
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the response. I can only say that Hofmann was not aware of velocity sensitive MIDI keyboards at the time. But I think I will take your advice and look into finding a class or instructor locally.
post #4 of 15
Yes, take private piano lessons.

My mom made me go to them, I stopped taking those classes about a year ago. Sorry I am of no help But the only advice I have for you is that you should take these lessons ONLY if you are serious about it and will take time and actually practice. Good luck !
post #5 of 15
indeed, private lessons are cheap and plentiful. Craigslist is a good place to look.

Weighted keys aren't really important when you are learning. I think they only make a difference to very experienced pianists - but then again, I play the organ......
post #6 of 15
Thread Starter 
I ended up getting a good deal on an M-Audio Keystation 88es, which is an 88-key semi-weighted keyboard with little else than the keys. I'll check out Craigslist but I'm tempted to take the CC class my friend took where once enrolled I can also go use their practice rooms and play some real pianos in private.
post #7 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by j View Post
I ended up getting a good deal on an M-Audio Keystation 88es, which is an 88-key semi-weighted keyboard with little else than the keys. I'll check out Craigslist but I'm tempted to take the CC class my friend took where once enrolled I can also go use their practice rooms and play some real pianos in private.
I actually have the 61es. Sine it's USB you might want to search around for some piano instruction programs; I've got one from emedia that wasn't bad and IIRC it lets you play/corrects you as your follow a lesson.
post #8 of 15
My advice to you if you're learning, is to understand the construction behind the chords and notes you are playing. Learn musical theory! I know so many piano players (not very good ones however) who are absolutely helpless without sheet music because they don't even know the names of the chords they are playing! As a guitarist, I will tell them to play a I-IV-V in C, and they wouldn't know what to do. Don't become one of them, learn about the constuction of scales, chords, and muscial structures so you can be a true muscian. It is also much more fulfilling and incentivizing if you know how and why things work, you will have much more confidence.
post #9 of 15
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by whodini View Post
I actually have the 61es. Sine it's USB you might want to search around for some piano instruction programs; I've got one from emedia that wasn't bad and IIRC it lets you play/corrects you as your follow a lesson.
Interesting, I hadn't thought of that. I'll look into that.

Yeah, luckily this was USB (I guess they pretty much all are now) so I didn't even have to get an interface yet. If I want anything to come out sounding good, I will have to, but for now headphones will work fine.
post #10 of 15
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by poelow View Post
My advice to you if you're learning, is to understand the construction behind the chords and notes you are playing. Learn musical theory! I know so many piano players (not very good ones however) who are absolutely helpless without sheet music because they don't even know the names of the chords they are playing! As a guitarist, I will tell them to play a I-IV-V in C, and they wouldn't know what to do. Don't become one of them, learn about the constuction of scales, chords, and muscial structures so you can be a true muscian. It is also much more fulfilling and incentivizing if you know how and why things work, you will have much more confidence.
I can see that helping, I'll try to find a good book or something. I have the very basics of chord progressions from some jazz band experience, but not much on chord structures/names/etc.
post #11 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by poelow View Post
I know so many piano players (not very good ones however) who are absolutely helpless without sheet music because they don't even know the names of the chords they are playing!

Back when I took piano lessons. I was suppose to take a test to promote to the next level. tlmusic, you should/may know what test I'm talking about. You have to pay to take the test, if that helped. Anyway... a part of the test you are required to remember a lot of cords. So While you take the test the instructor will tell you to play a random cord, and there would be no music sheet in front of you.
post #12 of 15
A few thoughts here - granted, formal pedagogy is not my forte. You might check out a couple of well regarded method books. Alfred's "Basic Adult All-in-One Piano Course" - cool in that it also includes theory - and "Accelerated Piano Adventures For The Older Beginner", by Randall Faber. Go down to your local music store and have a read thru. With your background, I think you'll get a feel of where you need be, book 1 or 2, ect. . What the hell, I know this sounds out, but while looking around last night, I ran into a downloadable method book by Sydney Smith from 1872! As funny as this might sound, dude gets you up and running pretty quick. Lays out some basics up front, and you just get busy with it. Language is dated and fingering is strange (x 2 3 4 5) where the thumb is x instead of 1. But the pieces have strong melody and solid harmonic foundation from the start. I admit, this pdf is a little raw. For someone who 1) isn't a total beginner 2) gets bored quickly - a combination of say the Alfred with the Smith might hold your interest, get your left hand used to moving around, deal with the bass clef quickly, and get you started in theory. Theory opened my playing up nearly as much as actual practice and is going to make it a lot easier to try and deal with Herbie. When your reading and hands get a little more acclimated to the keyboard, check out Bach - the 2 part Inventions for learning to play cleanly in 2 parts in a cantabile, or lyrical singing style. Part of what I dig about Herbie, is the way he makes his lines and comping sing. Also, pick up the Bach Chorales to read thru - aside from being great music, the paint the perfect picture of smooth voice leading and well grounded theory put into practice, getting from one chord to another smoothly in 4 voices. As a former french horn player in HS, i can empathize with your trumpet parts. After digesting a little Bach, you'll never look at the 2nd part of anything the same way, lol. Practice: You'll get a lot more out of your time if you practice a bit every day, as opposed to a big chunk of time a couple days a week. The brain forgets muscle memory pretty quick. Your ability to whistle, to internalize music is a great advantage. The key to getting the brain to connect this with the hands - is simple repetition, and it comes quicker if you can do this every day. Keyboard fingerings and hand position will naturally replace trumpet fingerings over time. Play however slowly it requires to play accurately. You ear knows you played a mistake, but your muscle memory doesn't make that distinction - it will remember a mistake as being played correctly, and will screw you over quite happily given half a chance! Along with this, try not to practice when your overly tired or your concentration isn't on. Get in the habit of playing with relaxed body. Sounds obvious, but it's one big fight you definitely don't need. Your hands are going to asked to do new things, repeatedly. This can create tension, so go about things slowly and give it a rest if you feel pain. Ear training is important - transcribe the first 4 bars of Let It Be or the opening 1 bar piano figure in Watermelon Man Now learn it in all 12 keys. One on the single best pieces of advice I ever got as a kid, was from a music director who would not hire me until I could transpose as sight. The obvious advantage is apparent when working with singers or bands, but you also are forced into "thinking in the key" of whatever it is you're playing. You actually see the chords and their relationship with each other in a different way and powerful way. Makes friends with a metronome, either a quartz seiko or use the one in your recording software. Speaking of software, a few goodies to be aware of: http://www.applied-acoustics.com/loungelizard.php Rhodes and Wurlitzer emulations with effects ... pretty good and not terribly taxing on the CPU. It's not a Motif ES, but hey. http://www.synthogy.com/index.html Hands down, the best damn acoustic piano software available. Honestly, this one makes you wanna play (and I'm a big snob when it comes to sound quality-playability). Not a huge CPU hog, but big demands on high speed disk access - as in a totally empty, dedicated firewire 800 drive or Sata drive, minimum - raided Sata's preferred. http://www.ronimusic.com/ Amazing Slow Downer - excellent utility to slow down tunes without changing pitch. Useful in isolating keyboard and guitar (Thank God!), and horns parts. Easy, on-the-fly loop feature to me is worth the price alone. highly recommended. As far as a real rhodes vrs a non weighted board. My opinion, 2 out of 20 rhodes are worth playing, ie. action and a tone that is good out of the gate. Part of the characteristic of this board is its ability to 'bark' when you lay into it. Some will start growling without a whole lot of muscle, others (most) you really gotta smack it around to make it talk. If you've been working out on an unweighted board, and aren't used to using your back, shoulders, and arms to facilitate this kind of power, your chops are gonna tire quickly. Same thing for acoustic pianos. A concert grand will have it's way with you if you've been working out regularly on a small upright, it's just a heavier action. If you can augment your practice to include something weighted, i think that's a good thing. Regardless, if I know I'm going to be playing a gig on a heavy action beast, I eat me pasta the night before!
post #13 of 15
Thread Starter 
Wow, thanks for all the advice! I'll look into the things you mentioned. A friend let me borrow his Alfred's book (from the aforementioned CC class) so I'll probably be starting with that. I got some decent velocity sensitive Rhodes samples to play with, and I think adjusting the velocity so I have to really punch the keys will probably help with what you were talking about with training for weighted boards. BTW, have you seen the new Rhodes Mk 7? It could still be vaporware, but man. Hopefully by the time they come out I'll have the money and skills to justify buying a 73 with all the bells.
post #14 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by RanMan View Post
You might check out a couple of well regarded method books. Alfred's "Basic Adult All-in-One Piano Course" - cool in that it also includes theory - and "Accelerated Piano Adventures For The Older Beginner", by Randall Faber. Go down to your local music store and have a read thru. With your background, I think you'll get a feel of where you need be, book 1 or 2, ect.
These are both really good books. My adult piano students use them all the time. I taught piano classes at a local community college for several years. Each class would usually have 10-15 students. Based on feedback from the students, the best course book for the class turned out to be the Faber Book Vol. One. I think it's the overall best beginner method book currently available. http://www.fjhmusic.com/piano/apa.htm
Quote:
Originally Posted by j View Post
BTW, have you seen the new Rhodes Mk 7? It could still be vaporware, but man. Hopefully by the time they come out I'll have the money and skills to justify buying a 73 with all the bells.
Wow, this keyboard looks sweet! I wonder how it plays and sounds.
post #15 of 15
Glad you found something useful j. Thanks for hosting the forum!

Yeah, I'm a big fan of tweaking velocity sensitivity, def a good idea, esp with multi samples. I haven't seen the Mk7 yet, very few of them around at this point. Although they did a 6 day pre sale last year, it'll be awhile before they hit stores - pricing and an actual release date are being played close to the vest at this point. You can find a little more info in this thread regarding the Rhodes at NAMM 2008.

http://www.gearslutz.com/board/new-p...namm-07-a.html

Oops, here's that download link for the Sydney Smith -

http://www.mediafire.com/?6m0dt1mntw1
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