Monday, March 07, 2011

PBS airs "Scott Houston: The Piano Guy"

On Sunday, March 6, WETA aired a two-hour piano lesson program by Scott Houston, “The Piano Guy”, 
with a basic link here, or his basic website  here.  The process is called "Play Piano in a Flash: 3 Steps to Piano Success". Were it that simple!

The class, in which each student had a small greatly reduced keyboard, offered to teach people who to play songs for social occasions without having to read much staff music.   He made a comment about what mind of music works at social occasions, and that may not always be a Bach Musette or Mozart “Turkish Sonata” – but then again, it might.

There were some interesting points. The piano doesn’t have to be tuned and manipulated before playing it every time (a “real” piano has to be tuned occasionally), and you don’t need to build up calluses. (You do need to trim fingernails, which are “dead” appendages, like hair!)  But “novices” have a real deal with the complexity of notation.

Actually, it seems like an accident of physics that a scale of twelve notes per octave (doubling of frequency) works so well (and composers use microtones so rarely).  But it’s arbitrary that we use “C” as the middle note, rather than “A”.  There is an arithmetic system for learning how key signatures (with sharps or flats) work, and also a mathematical system for meter.  For kids, proficiency in music tends to go hand in hand with proficiency in math.

Here’s another trick: composers of piano music know that it’s easier to play fast passages with many black keys (like D-flat Major), than in native “C major”.  Chopin and Liszt were particularly fond of using the black keys heavily.

It’s interesting, to someone with nine years piano and years of classical record collecting and some ties to the arts community, how people sell “music” (or subscription tickets to performances) for a living. Sales and art creation are not the same activities, psychologically speaking.

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