Taster from the first chapter – Step 5: a scale to get you moving round the keyboard

I´ve chosen this step as an example of what you get in this audiobook: a brief idea of what´s involved,  and the gist of how to do it: then step by step instructions, first for the right hand and then for the left: why and what it´s useful for and formal naming of parts – the “chromatic” scale, in this case.  This is followed by “try this”, an invitation to improve and improvise using what´s just been learnt.  As this has been designed as an audiobook, it´s accompanied by static diagrams.

In designing this as an audiobook, with a small accompanying manual, I´ve very much got in mind people who want a break from stewing over a hot laptop.

In your living room – soon! “Play it by ear”, audiobook for adult learners

This is the intro, the text is below for a quick glimpse, and I hope to have the first chapter up next week for your comments.
I´m not going to introduce the introduction, so here goes!

Hello! Welcome to PLAY IT BY EAR, which puts the “ear” into learn and the “play” into playing the piano. I´m Rose, and it is my heartfelt wish that this audiobook help you play the piano the way you want.
Perhaps you´ve had piano lessons in the past and want to take it up again, or you want to learn to improvise,
perhaps you want to play with others, learn what chord symbols mean, accompany singers, or yourself (!), or you want to learn along with your child,
perhaps you play another instrument, or you can play from sheet music but can´t do a thing without it,
– Or – if you are starting from scratch – this is designed for you. It´s how I´d have liked to have been taught.

I asked my mother for piano lessons aged four, and I´ve been learning ever since. When I began in the 1950´s, in England, I was taught in the conventional way: learning to read music and then learning to play what you read. It wasn´t till the early ‘70s that meeting with two sax-playing women made me realise that I too might be able to play the sort of music I was listening to: jazz, reggae, soul, gospel, highlife, afrobeat , funk – basically African music, whether from Africa or the Caribbean, North or South America . So I put away my books – and found I couldn´t even play a nursery rhyme without the dots. My “ear” was underdeveloped, so was my ability to play rhythm, and my memory was poor.

Then I moved to Liverpool in 1973, and was totally in awe of musicians who played by ear – in turn, some thought my ability to read music was magical. Later on I was struck by how stupid it was to teach an art for the ear by means of a completely different sense organ, the eye. When I heard Ian Carr say that jazz was “talking” I thought how odd it would be if we were prevented from talking until we could read and write. We learn to talk by listening and making sounds and imitating: perhaps we can learn to play the piano the same way.

Here is the first chapter of the audiobook. A complete beginner can start here, but for someone with more experience, the steps will be stepping stones to skip over. Set yourself up with the means of listening to this at your side by the piano or keyboard, so you can pause it easily. The essential instructions come at the beginning of each track. Then come more detailed instructions, explanations and diversions “Try this!”, to listen to at your leisure. For example, a returning learner could go to step 3, introducing the scale that uses all the notes, and find it novel to play without the music: the improvising starts here.
I very much look forward to your feedback.

Coming up for air – thank you for the music

I´ve been tussling with technology, and so before I put out the first chapter of “Play It by Ear” I want to thank some of the people who´ve helped me so much.  I´ve been lucky enough to have had some remarkable teachers: Harrison Birtwistle taking junior orchestra at my school, Frances Bradley teaching me the french horn, Colin Morgan the trumpet, and to have been able to attend jazz workshops and summer schools led by Ian Carr and Nucleus, Loose Tubes, Larry Willis.

I fell in love with the music of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, via l.p.s, as a teenager, and grew up when the Beatles exploded in the world of popular music, when soul music swept through England, when South African musicians arrived in London and blew us away, when Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea and Weather Report made their first appearances on this side of the Atlantic. I´ve had the chance to listen to many wonderful musicians play live. Above all, I feel an overwhelming gratitude to the musicians whose music, and whose generous attitude towards sharing the how, as well as the what, makes the world a livable place.

Finding it hard to Blog

As I thought, I’ve found it hard to blog consistently – daily life is so engaging. I play trumpet in a streetband (again), and I’ve been writing parts for the brass so we can play Zorba’s dance, to show solidarity with people in the same boat. First time I’ve transcribed something for bouzouki to horns! Yes, I know Herb Alpert did, but he also had the help of a bouzouki section at intervals.

Prizes! For helping me come up with a good title…


Thanks to the London Writers’ Club, I’ve finally been booted into blogging – so now it’s time for the other helpful suggestion: a good title. The way I’ve laid out “Learn to Play the Piano” underlines the point (I think) made in the subtitle “putting the “ear” into learn and the “play” into playing the piano” – but you can’t hear it! A free copy of the book for anyone who comes up with an inspiring title.