In Which A Notebook Kicks My Ass

chord substitutions fingerstyle blues Nov 15, 2017

So I'm trying to learn how to play the piano. I tried once before, my sophomore year in college, and one semester was enough to send me scrambling back to the guitar. "At least," I thought, "my two hands are both focused on doing one thing together, instead of two completely different things." However, after referring to myself over the past ten years as, for lack of a better term, a composer, I finally thought: this is ridiculous. How can you be a composer and not know how to play the piano?

So after a couple of other relatively recent false starts, a few months of working on scales, and a couple of positively hubristic (is that a word?) evenings stumbling over the first few bars of the first Bach Invention ("hey, there's only two single-note parts, and no chords – how hard could it be?") I started working on the Notebook For Anna Magdalena Bach. The first piece, anyway. And after a couple of months, I could sort of play that piece, from memory even, but it wasn't pretty. Nevertheless, I moved on to the second piece, because, well, I thought it might put the first piece in perspective, and indeed it did. A month or six weeks after that, I waded into the third piece, and that's where I am now – roughly familiar, section by section, with all the notes involved, but far from authoritative or even all that smooth with it. And the first two pieces have, as these things so often do, begun to recede from view already.

So this morning, I pulled out another book I'd ordered a while back, Bartok's Mikrokosmos. A friend had recommended it, without specifying which of the seven volumes to begin with, so I'd just gotten Volume 1. When it arrived, it looked – ahem – too easy, so I'd put it aside and kept slugging away at Bach, grateful for the soundproof walls in my studio, and the fact that if the ghost of J.S. ever chose to materialize in the 21st century, he'd probably shimmer into Cecil Taylor's practice room, not mine. But the Bach was kicking my ass again and I decided the minuet and I just needed a little apart time, so we could both cool off and make some more sensible choices about life and metronome settings. And for the few remaining minutes I had, I turned to page one of the Bartok and read through the first three pieces, each of them one line long. They weren't complicated, but I still had to concentrate, and there was something bracing and satisfying about trying to make something relatively simple sound good.

I'd like to say that's the point I'm trying to make with this week's lesson, but it's not – I just wanted to show you some cool ways to connect up seventh chords up the neck, since I got a question about that in the comments a while back. So here it is.