Something I’ve always thought as a neat ability among musicians is the ability to play music by ear. By this, I don’t mean those people who can replicate exactly everything they hear. That takes a certain level of talent that I’ll probably never achieve. I simply refer to the ability to think of a tune in your head and then produce it on your instrument.

In theory, it’s not a particularly complicated technique. You just need to be able to identify the pitch you want to play, and then it’s just a matter of pressing the right key. Once you get good enough, you’ll eventually skip the middle step and go straight from the pitch to the instrument.

Here’s a pretty cool program I’ve been using to practice this. It throws out random note(or chords) and asks you to identify it. Like everything else, it just comes down to finding the time to practice.

Sorry, feeling lazy this week.

This seems fitting for today:

Green Day – Wake Me Up When September Ends

Here’s my one of my favorite songs:

Taking Back Sunday – Slow Dance on the Inside

Up through most of high school, and early college, TBS was probably my favorite band. I went to one of their concerts at Cornell freshman(or was it sophomore?) year, and the lead singer swung his mic around in a crazy fashion throughout the performance.

Lately though, it just hasn’t been as appealing as it used to be. I still like their music if I hear it incidentally, but there’s just no motivation to pull it up on my playlist. Maybe I just can’t relate to it as much as I used to, or maybe I’m just getting tired of it after almost a decade. Either way, it’s weird how my music preferences have changed over the years. It’s just not something you notice.

Back in the day when I was learning to play the piano, one of the things my teacher always suggested I do was record my practices and listen to it afterwards to find the mistakes I didn’t pick up while I was playing. Of course I never did this, because practicing was already a chore. Listening to my practices was essentially torture.  However, it wasn’t long before I realized that this advice didn’t just apply to musical instruments.  I got the same advice for debate (“Record and watch your speeches.”), for writing (“Proofread and read out loud everything you write.”), and even video games(“Watch your replays!”).

I think the truth of the matter is that self observation is an important learning step for just about any skill. It comes down to the fact that you see/hear/feel differently about the things you do than how other people perceive it. Going back and watching yourself from the outside lets you see things that you simply wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. This is especially true for ticks and mannerisms in your performance that you just do automatically.

Anyway, in an attempt to do this more, I bought a Zoom Q3 a couple weeks ago to record some of my piano practices. I went with this because A.) I didn’t want to spend some ridiculous amount of money on real recording mics, and B.) normal recorders are absolutely awful for sound. My goal was simply to find something that is reasonably priced, but is at the very least able to cancel out that air static noise you hear with standard camcorder.

I’ve been playing around with the recorder, and I seem to have most of the settings right. The only one I can’t decide on is if I should use the “low-cut” filter. The idea behind the filter is to cut off low frequency background noise, but I’m not sure how it affects the actual low frequency sounds from the piano. So here’s 2 recordings of the start of a piece. One is using the filter, while the other isn’t. Let me know if you can pick out which is which, and more importantly, which one has the better sound (not necessarily the better playing):

Sound Test 1:

Sound Test 2:

I really like duets. There’s something about how the voices mix together that’s just really pleasant for me to listen to. Here’s my two favorites:

There’s a slight chance I’m biased toward these because they remind me of people… but those stories are probably better saved for another day.

(*Question- Are these mp3 embeddings working on your readers? I notice they show up on my Google Reader, but not on my iGoogle extension.)

As a kid I absolutely hated the sound of string instruments. It was like nails on a chalkboards to me, and I guess if you think about it, the mechanics aren’t too far off from each other.  So it was a surprise even to me, when I learned a couple of years ago that they were probably some of my favorite instruments. I can’t really say what has changed since then, maybe my ears drums are finally dull enough that the high frequencies don’t bother me as much, or maybe I’m just more used to the sound now.

Regardless, nowadays I’m sold on just about anything with an ounce of strings in it, especially if it shows up in a genre where it doesn’t really belong. My favorite has to be the Vitamin String Quartet, who does string covers of alternative rock(among many other things) like Fallout Boy, Panic of the Disco, Greenday, etc. So, in other words: my favorite genre played on my favorite instruments. Also, all of their covers are without lyrics, which means I can actually work to the music.  Here’s a couple of my favorites from them:

  1. Dance, Dance – Fallout Boy
  2. Camisado – Panic! at the Disco  
  3. I’m Not Ok (I Promise) – My Chemical Romance
If you haven’t heard the originals, you should definitely look for those first. It’s funny because normally I can’t stand most of the stuff  by MCR, but I can listen to the strings version of their songs all day long. Maybe I just don’t like their lyrics.