what works and what doesn’t

As mentioned before, I’ve been deathmarching through a variety of projects lately. But my brain has hit the stage of “no worky don’ wanna YOU CAN’T MAKE ME” this afternoon, so I think a brief break might be in order. First I played a bit of piano, and now I figure I’ll talk about how that’s going.

1) As mentioned last year, when I spent a few hours dusting off my piano skills, I am slooooow at reading music. I do okay with stuff inside the treble clef, but once you involve ledger lines or (god help me) the bass clef, it gets trickier. And I’m prone to forgetting accidentals. I spend a fair bit of time peering at the music stand, and make more than a few mistakes.

2) My hands have also forgotten a lot. One of the basic skills of piano-playing is knowing how to position your fingers to play a third or a fifth or whatever, how far to shift your arm to move up an octave. I allllllmost remember that stuff, but not well enough ton trust my hands to do it without looking. (When I try, sometimes it works — and sometimes I miss by just the right interval for it to sound horrible.)

3) And yet, having said all that . . .

. . . sometimes I can just play.

I don’t mean the stuff I can just play by reflex. I mean that sometimes I’m peering at the music, going “okay, that’s an E-flat and, uh, what is that note –” and then I realize that while I was busy doing that, my hand went ahead and played it. Without me even knowing what I’m doing.

It happens the most often on pieces I used to play. Not the ones I memorized (the ones I can play by reflex — when I don’t totally blank on how they go), but things I played fifteen or twenty years ago. But sometimes it happens with new things, too, the ones that are arrangements of pieces I know. It’s because I know how they should sound: either from playing them before, or from listening to them a lot. And some part of my brain goes “this is how you make that sound,” without going through the intervening steps of reading the music or figuring out which keys to hit.

When that happens, it’s my sense of pitch at the wheel. I know the sounds, and they happen. Given more practice, I think it will return to a more conscious level of control, rather than the weird subconscious instinct it is right now. But at the moment? It’s freaky, man. <g>

Anyway, I have a whole pile of sheet music now: a lot of it old, some of it new, not all of it within reach of my skills even when I had ’em. But I intend to keep on trying . . . .

0 Responses to “what works and what doesn’t”

  1. desperance

    Sounds like learning to touch-type – it happened to me sort of incidentally, but I found that I could just reach for the word and there it was. These days, that only happens with a word I’ve never typed before, and there are fewer of those, but I still occasionally get that frisson of just knowing the three-dimensional shape of what is a sound in my head.

    • Marie Brennan

      I got taught to type several times growing up, so I never had that experience with words; I’ve always known how to make them happen. Though now that I say that, the same used to be true of piano (I started at six; I don’t remember the process of learning to play) — it’s just that I’ve stepped away for long enough that now I’m alienated from my former knowledge.

  2. chinders


    I used to play trumpet through school and, when thinking about it the other day, realized that I could still remember how to finger a C major scale, just by rote, even in absence of a trumpet. It was a very odd muscle-memory moment.

  3. rosefox

    Er… you might want to reconsider your casual use of “deathmarch”, given the history of the term.

  4. autumns_ink

    If you really want to mess with your sense of intervals, try taking up the harp as well. Switching between that and piano is… yeah. Sometimes I’ll aim for an octave and end up with a 14th, or else manage to play an open fifth that sounds an awful lot like a major third. And don’t even get me started on key signatures… πŸ™‚

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