Friday, October 10, 2014

How To Develop Perfect Pitch

When it comes to this issue of developing perfect pitch, I know there are many critics! I used to be one. But I have discovered something that is slowly changing my mind.

I recently acquired a CD teaching by David Lucas Burge. Burge is one of the only pioneers on this subject, at least that I have been able to find. He has developed a method for developing perfect pitch and at first I have to admit I was very skeptical. However, as I go through this course I am starting to show signs of being able to recognize certain pitches without using relative pitch.

How does it work?
Unlike relative pitch, perfect pitch is not very objective when it comes to the exercises one can do to achieve mastery. This is because it is a lot more about perception of a certain quality of each note. What I mean is, instead of hearing how one note sounds in relationship to another, the exercises are about listening deeply to each individual letter note and hearing distinct qualities that each note possesses. I was very critical of this at first, but after actually working on the exercises, I started noticing different qualities in each of the pitches. Right now, I can almost always identify C, F, G and sometimes other notes like D and A. This is after just about a month of study.

Does Relative Pitch make it harder to attain Perfect Pitch?
At first I thought I would not be able to attain perfect pitch even if I wanted to because I am so well trained in relative pitch. The fact is, this is just not true. In fact, I believe that relative pitch is helping me with perfect pitch. It is hard to articulate at this point why this is true, but the best way I can say it is that Perfect Pitch and Relative Pitch are both two distinct skills. And yet, they seem to play off of each other. 

Will having Perfect Pitch be annoying?
I have been guilty of saying that I would rather not have perfect pitch even if I could. I don't know why I said this other than the fact that it may have been a justification for the fact that I thought I never could develop it.

One of the things that David Lucas Burge says is that it really wouldn't be annoying if something were off just a little bit. What is annoying for anybody, is when one note is off in the midst of many notes. However is the whole ensemble is off to the same amount, that really wouldn't be that annoying because the ensemble would be in tune with itself.  Now I am not to the level where I can really here things to that detail yet, but I'm sure it will come.

What is the point?
I guess it is easier to say that there really isn't a point in developing. After all, relative pitch seems to be a far more powerful tool. The fact is, relative pitch is a really powerful tool and it has aided me greatly in my profession as a musician, however I am now discovering how Perfect Pitch can add to the overall utility of a well defined ear. 

I hope this helps in your discovery. Let me know: What is your experience? Have you ever tried developing perfect pitch and did you get any results?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Strides! A New Productivity App for Musicians

Enjoy Productivity?

Some of you may be productivity fans like me! Yes, I didn’t say I was great at it but I do enjoy making my life simpler and more efficient. There is this new app I am trying out from the app store called Strides.

  1. The creators of this app definitely understand simple. Strides gives you four options of types of goals you can set. Then it will ask you for a "smart goal". This is a specific goal using numbers. It then uses the parameters of the goal that you set to give you a statistical report over time. Here are the four types of goals you can program:

  1. Reach a Target value by a date. 
  2. Form or break a Habit.
  3. Track an Average over time.
  4. Achieve a goal with Milestones.

A nice little touch that Strides adds to its app is that it moves you up levels as you achieve more and more. You can also share your progress with social media sites such as Facebook

Does it Work

The biggest question is: Does it work? Well, I will tell you that I have been using it for several days now and it definitely improves consistency. The nice thing about Strides, is it reminds you of your specific goals at the times you set. Usually the reminder will tell you that it is time to log your progress. This is a great feature because it jogs your memory. Even if you do a poor job keeping your goals at first, the reminders constantly bring the new goal to your awareness. I have definitely seen my life improve due to this app.

One last thing. Another nice feature is that Strides suggests tons of options if you can't think of anything you want to improve on. You can choose anything from Exercise to Productivity. 

How would this help a musician?

Well, one of the biggest obstacles for a growing musician is discipline. That's right, the "D word". Often times it is just because a habit hasn't formed. In this way, Strides acts like a nanny. It won't help you do the work, but it will help you remember to do the work.

Using Strides to improve Musicianship

  1. Determine what you struggle with. Is it discipline? Is it focus? You can hone in on one problem at a time and measure your progress. The key is specific goals.
  2. Make sure you look at your progress daily. Even if you fall short, this time is a good reminder of how you can improve in the future.
  3. Be Specific. I have mentioned this a lot because this is so important. Be very specific with your goals. For example, if you want to learn more chords, determine how many chords you want to learn in how much time. If you want to practice for a longer period of time, determine how long you want to practice for and for how many days.
  4. Set your goal date. Make sure you set the goal date far enough away that it forms a habit, but short enough that it is attainable.
Feel free to post the goals you intend to improve on!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The 5 Easiest Piano Chords to Play

The 5 Easiest Piano Chords to Play

The best thing you can do as someone getting started on the piano, is start simple. The great thing about starting with chords, is that even though these 5 chords are the easiest, there are elements that apply to harder chords. So you can’t go wrong here. Ultimately you will be learning skills with these chords that will apply to many chords.

The Anatomy of a Chord

A chord can be defined as more than one note played at a time. A lot of times a good piano chord will have three or four different notes in the chord. The specific chord type we will be talking about here is the triad. I have been posting a lot about this so I hope this drives the point home.

An easy way to remember what a triad is the concept of 3. There are three notes and each interval is a third. 

Ok, now for the fun part.

I am going to get right down to the 5 of the easiest chords to play. I am going to give you multiple ways to play them as well!

  1. C Major. C Major contains these three notes: C -E - G. Now these three notes can be doubled or even put in different orders. Here are 5 ways that you can play this chord below.

  1. G Major. Another easy chord is G Major which contains: G - B - D. Again, the order or the notes does not change the letter name of the chord. (Though it might change the quality) Here are several ways you can play this chord:

  1. F Major. F Major is closely related to G and C. The three notes in this chord are: F - A - C. F Major is used a lot with G, C and A minor. 

  1. A Minor. A Minor is also closely related to C and is used a lot with the 3 chords above.  A minor chord is minor because the third of the chord is a bit lower. I will explain this later in the post. For now just understand that a minor chord has a darker sound than a major chord.

  1. D Minor. D Minor is a chord like A Minor. Again, I will discuss the difference between Major and Minor later. For now just know that a D Minor chord contains D - F - A. You can play this the same way you would play A minor as well.

The Difference Between Major and Minor

Ok so here it is. What is the difference between a Major Triad and a Minor Triad? Simply put, the difference lies in the third of the chord. Remember I said that there are three notes in the triad? (Duh right!!) Well the one in the middle is called the Third because we are measuring from the bottom note which we call One. 

In C Major, the Third is E. Now technically, the distance between the First and the Third is what makes the difference. The distance between C and E is two whole steps. To make the chord minor, you have to drop the E to an E flat. The distance between C and E flat is 1 1/2 steps. This concept is best illustrated at this (link). 


Major Chord: 2 whole steps between First and Third. Example: C to E or G to B

Minor Chord: 1 and 1/2 steps between First and Third. Example: C to E flat or G to B flat.

Monday, May 27, 2013

5 Tips on Playing Piano Chords Smoothly

Have you ever played something and it didn’t sound quite right? Maybe you were playing the right notes but it sounded kind of clanky. Well, playing smoothly is not too hard to do, you just have to be doing the right things. Below I will share with you some common techniques that will help you play smoothly.

  1. Sustain pedal. The sustain pedal is usually the right most pedal on a piano.If you have never used a sustain pedal, it would be a good idea to start getting some coordination with it. Using the pedal can help you connect notes more easily while you move your hands. This comes in really handy especially on slow songs.
  2. Continuation. One way to make sure that something sounds smooth is to make sure there is always something going on. There is a flowing style that you can play in. One example that I am thinking of is a song called ‘Set Fire To The Rain” by Adele. If you listen to this song, you will notice that piano is always moving somewhere. This is a very typical contemporary style.
  3. Arpeggios. Rather than playing blocked chords, when we split up the notes of a chord and play them one at a time, this is called an arpeggio. You can use an arpeggio in combination with the sustain pedal to create a smooth flowing sound. One example is “Fur Elise” by Beethoven.
  4. Legato Chords. There is yet another style that could be used. If you take regular blocked chords and make them legato or add the pedal, you will get chords that sound really smooth together. I would recommend trying to play them in quarter notes at first.
  5. Melody on Top. This technique is a little bit harder. One of the ways that you can create a smooth texture is by adding chords to a melody with the melody always on top. For this one I am going to have to demonstrate. There are two different ways you could do it. You could do it using regular chords and you could do it using arpeggiated chords. Watch the two examples below using this popular tune.

Monday, May 20, 2013

10 Tips For Learning Triad Chords

Chords are a good place to start because chords are so applicable to today’s songs. If you want to learn any popular song, you are going to be using chords. One thing I have noticed in my career is that the more you know about chords, the better you can play them.

What I have done here, is listed some tips that you can apply to gain a very thorough knowledge and playing ability of chords. To get the fullness of this post you may have to do some research on your own, but consider this an overview. Here we go:

  1. Learn how to build triads. One of the greatest things you can do for yourself is to learn about the triad. Now if you want to know a good place to find explanations, you can go to these links (Here) (Here). After you have done your research on what a triad is, it is time to “spell” them. This just means that you are going to take some particular chords and write them out on sheet music. I won’t go into why this important here but you should spend some time doing this. You can download your own staff paper at  Try out this chord calculator as well.
  2. Learn to Play Them With Both Hands. Once you learn how to form triads, it is important to build the coordination with both hands. I will tell you that most of the time, us people who use chords a lot usually play the chord with the right hand and a bass line or pattern with the left. This is not a rule, just typical.
  3. Learn A Song. One of the easiest ways to learn chords is just to learn a song. A lot of times, you can find free chord charts online. It is also worthwhile to invest in sheet music from a store like I would also recommend as you are learning your song, go back to step 1 and write out the chords in root position form. (Find out more about Root Position here).
  4. Roman Numerals. It is really important to be able to associate Roman Numerals to each chord in a key. Let me explain what I mean. Every note in the major scale has a triad chord that goes with it. Each one of these chords has a Roman Numeral that also is assigned to it. What you want to do is to be able to identify the I(one) chord in any song. For example, in the key of C, C is I which would make G the numeral V(Five) and so forth. This is explained in a couple of places. (Here) and (Here).
  5. Learn Scales. It always comes back to scales for me doesn’t it. Now I have done a lot of posts on scales so I won’t go deep here. Because the scale is the foundation of all chords, it is obviously important to learn your scales so that you can have a background understanding of chords. I would suggest starting with Major Scales. If you are a pianist, I have a great pdf that you can download for free to get you started. (Click Here) Besides being able to play the scales you want to be able to write these out as well. 
  6. Learn Arpeggios. You may not be to sure what an arpeggio is. Well, an arpeggio is a broken chord. This means that using a particular fingering and technique, you play one note of the chord at a time. Typically this happens from bottom to top and then back to the bottom. This will help you understand each chord more fully.
  7. Construct Chords. There is an exercise at that allows you to build chords based on the root of the chord. It might ask you to build a G major chord on a G. This will give you lots of practice. Here is the link for the exercise: Click Here If you are new at this, start with the default settings. You can add other chord types and inversions later.
  8. Inversions. Now I will talk about something that gets overlooked very often. It seems to be unimportant to most people. While understand the reasoning that “inversions” are unimportant I do disagree. I am all about context and how the study on one concept can enlighten you in the broader context. If you want to understand chords and how they work, you should definitely spend some time on inversions. I won’t go deep here because I already have some posts about inversions. So here is a link to a post of mine. Here is a link that to a presentation on inversions: Click Here
  9. Major or Minor. Understanding the difference between Major Chords and Minor Chords is important. The difference changes the function of the chord as well as the sound. The difference really lies in the third of the chord. There are other types of triads that will be important to learn as well. Here is where you can find a nice explanation of the types of triads.
  10. Intervals. This one is last but NOT least. You can’t understand chord effectively unless you understand intervals. This one is very related to scales. Again, I have covered intervals in the past so I will simply give you a couple of links. Here is a link to understanding intervals in a generic sense: Click Here  Now here is a link to understanding specific intervals: Click Here And finally, here is my post called: Why Every Musician Needs Intervals and How To Find Them

Friday, May 17, 2013

Singing Tips for using a Breathy Technique

Ok I am no expert on the subject but I am a singing coach and I do teach this method a little bit during singing lessons. So I decided to do some research on the topic of "Singing with a Breathy Tone". 

Some teach this method as a way to add style to a contemporary song. Others seem to say not to do it at all? 

Which one is right? Well I will just say using it only for effect is just fine but it doesn't need to be the constitution of your sound. 
Ok so now I will dive into some singing tips on using breathiness in my tone:

  • Never Abuse Breathiness. In your vocal training, don't define your sound as vein breathy.  If you are breathy because you don't know how to do anything else, then you are not doing it the right way. "Breathiness in your tone is an effect and shouldn't be abused.
  • Be Stylistic. As Justin Stoney describes in this video, some songs require a breathy tone and others do not. 
  • Use Breathiness In Dynamics. My personal preference is to use different amounts of breathiness within the same song. I try to correlate this with dynamics so that I get a lot of variation and emotion in the music. For example, during the first verse of a song, I might start breathy and as I get louder I might decrease the amount of breathiness.

An Exercise you can do to work on breathiness:

I want you to think of two variables. The first one is Tone and the second is Intensity. What we are going to try to do is increase the rate of our breath and maybe decrease the volume of our tone so that we can achieve a breathy sound.

Pick a note that is in your comfortable range. Sing it on any syllable and start at a loud volume. Now as you sing decrease the volume of your tone so that by the time you run out of air, all you hear is breath. If you do this enough, you will eventually gain the muscle to apply as much or as little as you want!

Some Resources For and Against Breathiness. You Decide

Nashville Singing Lessons: Breathy Tones for Stylistic Effect - YouTube

How to Use Different Textures in Your Voice | Singing Lessons for Beginners

I just found this video as well. This is one of the best that I found:

Damaging Vocal Techniques

Vocal Coaching Articles | Strained Singing & Cramped Cords

Monday, May 13, 2013

Why Every Musician Needs Intervals and How to Find Them

Do you want to improve your music reading skills? How about your overall understanding of how music works. Your Ear-training skills?

You can improve all of these by learning about Intervals. An Interval in music is defined as the distance between two notes. Now this can get complicated but we are going to stick to a set group of notes for the purposes of this post.

What I mean is this. If you take a look at these two examples you will see that the notes are different, and yet they would both be a type of interval called a Second. The first one is called a Major Second and the second is called a Minor Second.

So for the purposes of this article, I am going to focus on intervals that do not use flats(b) or sharps(#).

Specifically I am going to focus in on C Major. Now this is not the only scale you could use but it tends to be the easiest for understanding.

So watch this video that will walk you through a tutorial on understanding these intervals.


Now let me show you some applications:

  1. Reading - One of the most important applications is that you can actually learn to use intervals to help you read. For example, if your first two notes are C and G, you might start reading it as a Fifth along with the letter names.
  2. Ear Training - You can learn this ear training exercise that will have a massive impact on the rest of your musical application. The exercise is called Interval Recognition. You can learn more and get started (Here)
  3. Major Scale - THIS IS SO IMPORTANT! The Major Scale is the foundation for your musical understanding so do not neglect your scales.  Make sure you take your time to thoroughly understand them and play them. It will take you longer at the time but you will love the long term results. (Please see my post on practice methods to help you along)

Tips for determining what an interval is:

  1. Always count the first note as 1 - This is important because if you don’t count the bottom note as 1 then you will be one number too short. Here is an example: This is an Eighth which we call an octave. See if you can count it!
  2. Use The Letter Names - When determining what an interval is, the letters will help you as well. For example I always know that from a C to a G is a Fifth. Because I have that memorized I no longer have to count it. Also if you can remember that from a letter to the same letter is an octave, just like the example above, this will help you.
  3. Repetition - There is that word again! Eventually you will be able to read intervals like you can read letter names if you spend enough time practicing. I would highly recommend this because it only strengthens your reading speed and accuracy.

Resources for learning intervals online: (these links come from a site called This is a great site to learn music theory online.

An Exercise on Intervals (Treble Clef Only: You can change this on the site)