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Effortless Piano Technique and Good Tone

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The “Holy Grail” for pianists is to find an “effortless” technique which allows them to be at one with the instrument. This is something that has interested me for the past 20 years and which I believe I’m beginning to gain some understanding of.

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for ages but it’s such a huge subject! Most of what’s written below is taken from an email I sent to a colleague regarding piano students and how this may be of benefit to some of the more advanced pianists.

The whole subject of technique is extremely complicated and is not simply understanding the mechanism by which we play the instrument, but relies hugely on how we hear and think about music too.

For me, there is a distinct difference between “technique” and something which I shall call “mechanism”.
By “mechanism” I mean an efficient use of the muscles of the hand and arm which allows for “effortless” playing by means of gaining maximum effect with minimum input of energy.  Of course this is “technique”, but that word has other implications  such as ability to play thirds, octave passages and other specific technical difficulties which are a different concern.

Jazz musicians don’t need to build a formidable “technique” in the same way that a classical musician does but the ability to play accurately with precise rhythm and good tone, without conscious awareness of technique is vital. Although applicable to any good musician, this is a specific area of concern for improvisers because we cannot fall back on knowing  the notes .  Any physical discomfort is a barrier to improvisation as we need almost all of our conscious mind devoted to creating the notes in the first place. We also need to learn how to combat unwanted tension.  I once asked a very well respected teacher what one should do if experiencing tension and the reply was “play through it!” which is a familiar response and one I find at best unhelpful and can in extreme cases lead to focal dystonia.

Another problem which arises more often with students of Jazz/ improvisation is that they usually come to the piano at a later age and haven’t built up a technique at a time when their hands and wrists are more supple and still growing. As a result, many students play the piano with tension or at the very least a highly inefficient technique which wastes energy and produces a bad tone, usually with muscle stiffness.

My own approach is based upon:

  • Firstly “timing” the key correctly – nothing to do with rhythm, but rather, feeling the point at which the hammer strikes the string so that one can input the minimum required energy to gain the maximum affect.
  • Maximising the use of the small muscles of the hand (which are very weak but allow great independence) while minimising the work done by the long flexors and extensors which are joined to the forearm. This system of muscles and tendons is very strong and yet impedes finger independence, results in a stiffened wrist, finger  insensitivity and can result in pain if overworked. Most students I see (and many professionals) overuse these long flexors and extensors.

For me, the basic piano playing mechanism relies on:

  • allowing the hand to drop completely -thus allowing a loose wrist and removing unnecessary work from the Flexor Digitorium System in the arm.
  • For the finger to strike the key (“timing” the key/ hammer precisely)
  • The finger then supports the weight of the hand (rather like a house resting on stilts).
  • The fingers do not press at all- they support (they are never passive).
  • The next key is struck by a finger and the weight of the hand is transferred from the first finger to the next with no break – producing an “effortless” legato.
  • Additional energy required for most playing can be added by pushing from the arm or adding additional weight from the arm.

The “feeling” of playing a legato phrase is to drop onto the first note, then feel a  continuous connection with the keyboard throughout the phrase and finally pick the hand up at the end. Playing is effortless, with a good tone and extremely rapid.Although this sounds simple, most pianists are unable to achieve the correct results due to an overuse of the long flexors. These give the pianist a feeling of strength and security but they also “take over” work that needs to be done by the small, far weaker muscles within the hand. This means that the pianist may look as though he or she is performing the correct action but the work is done by the wrong muscle groups and the correct feeling will not be achieved.  Work must e built up from a very small sound,  learning to time the hammer precisely and to allow the arm to completely let go of the hand at the wrist. Only then can additional power be added.

Obviously this is only part of a comprehensive technique but the “mechanism” is essential.

This is a huge subject and one which produces much disagreement among pianists!
This is a really an introduction and I’ll be adding to this subject with images and video.
I’d love to hear the thoughts of other pianists.

Posted in: General, Piano Technique, Tutorials

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High Quality Royalty Free Christmas Music

christmas music royalty freeI know the thought of Royalty Free Christmas Music may send you screaming around the room but we’ve just added some orchestral carols to our Traditional Christmas category which I think are really tasteful, honestly 🙂

Have a listen to these rather beautiful arrangements:
Away in a Manger
Once in Royal David’s City
Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Also:
Slient Night
12 Days of Christmas

More on the way……….

Posted in: General, Royalty free music

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Old School Funk Grooves

funk-backgroundRemember the 70s and 80s? Well, ok, I was only a kid in the 70s so a great deal passed me by but I do know about all those funky grooves. New composer David Klotz  is helping us get in touch with our inner funk, with some great “Old School Funk” tracks.

Old School Funk 1– A slow, heavy groove with kicking brass riffs, rhythm guitars, funky bass
Old School Funk 2  – Medium tempo, heavy funk with Moog synth and Hammond organ. 
Old School Funk 3  -My personal favorite, with a really strong melody on brass section.  
Old School Funk 4  – Another heavy funk groove with strong clavinet.
Old School Funk 5  – Another favorite, heavy, slow groove, with vocal.  
Old School Funk 7 – A more up tempo groove, more of a “Play That Funky Thing” style groove.
Old School Funk 8 – A slower groove with Moog bass.

These seriously funky tracks are available to license and download  separately (£12.99, $21)  or as a package of 7 tracks (£29.99, $49).

Posted in: General, Royalty free music

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Latin Music and Brazilian Beats

brazil-backgroundWe’ve recently added some superb Latin music and authentic Brazilian beats by Tempero, composers Felipe Vassão and Janecy Nascimento. After almost two decades writing music for advertising, film and tv, they have honed their skills in multiple genres. Based in Brazil, they and have produced music and sound design for over 1000 TV and radio spots.
Check out these tracks:

Lamento – Utterly beautiful, and a personal favorite. Slow, sensual, tragic music.
Mandacaru Eletronico  – Authentic brazilian MARACATU twisted into an electronic remix. 
 Caatinga – Authentic brazilian slow BAIAO/XOTE, with a 10-string VIOLA playing over a laid-back live percussion groove.
 Lagoa – Latin lullaby, with an accordion and a fiddle playing the sweet main theme over acoustic guitars and light percussion.

All our Latin music can be found here: Royalty free Latin Music
and other great tracks by Tempero.
These tracks (and many more) are all available for licensing in TV,DVD,Video,Film, internet and multimedia.

Posted in: General, Royalty free music

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Indian Background Music

Indian musicJust a quick post to welcome composer David Klotz to SMARTassMusic.
He’s provided us with some really great tracks and amongst them are a number of really strong Indian influenced pieces which enhance our world music/ ethnic music and Indian background music collection.
Delhi Llama uses traditional Indian percussion along with wooden flute and creates a dark, mysterious backdrop.
Sands of Time is rather  sinister and dramatic and includes a male vocal.
Sruti Box includes female vocal and is more of a dance orientated piece with percussion.
Deva Dasi is a traditional style piece with sitar and tabla and creates a dark, mysterious yet soothing mood.

Dave Klotz is an experienced composer,audio engineer and producer, having worked with a variety of groups, in a variety of styles. He has worked with some of the best producers in the business, including Andy Johns, Thom Panunzio and Dave Schiffman. Dave has provided orchestral arrangements on a variety of projects, toured extensively in North America and Europe as a professional keyboardist, and has appeared on a variety of albums. He is a graduate of the York University music program, where he received a BFA degree with honors, specializing in ethnomusicology, composition and avant-garde electronic music. He is credited for composition in film, television, and dance choreography, for clients spanning from Toronto, to Los Angeles and Hong Kong.

Posted in: General, Royalty free music

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Great Evening with Stan Sulzmann and Nick Smart

piano_royalty_free_music_iconOccasionally a gig comes along which makes all the hard work over the years, worth it- and for me, I was lucky enough to experience exactly that on Sunday. I had a gig with the great, British saxophonist Stan Sulzmann  along with Nick Smart (trp), Buster Birch (drms), Pete Ringrose (bass) with myself  (Jim Treweek) on piano. For me, it was one of those rare nights where everything comes together and playing is just a sheer joy. The prospect of playing with such fine musicians is rather daunting but I’ve found over the years that when great musicians have nothing to prove, then they’re the nicest people you could hope to meet. 

It was also a real pleasure to meet Helen Mayhew,  who was in the audience, and is certainly one of the UK’s top Jazz broadcasters and has interviewed Jazz giants such as McCoy Tyner, Branford and Wynton Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard, Abdullah Ibrahim, Geri Allen, Michael Brecker, Eddie Harris, Dianne Reeves, Chick Corea, Stanley Turrentine, Quincy Jones and Shirley Horn.

In my opinion Stan Sulzmann really is the best of British Jazz, with a wonderful tone and a never ending stream of thoughtful, inventive  ideas. 

stan-sulzmannStan Sulzmann is constantly in demand as a guest soloist and has appeared with bands across Europe, including the Hilversum Radio Orchestra, NDR Big Band (alongside Chet Baker), Hanover Radio Symphony Orchestra and the New York Composers Orchestra. His career stretches back to the 60’s, where he drew critical acclaim playing alongside Graham Collier, John Taylor, Kenny Wheeler, Gordon Beck, as well as leading many groups of his own. Since that time Stan has been at the forefront of European contemporary jazz, and has been in demand by musicians such as  Gil Evans, Mike Gibbs, Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland and Michael Brecker. 

 

nick-smart1Nick Smart (trp)  is another musician who constructs intelligent, swinging solos with a beautiful tone. Nick has performed with numerous groups including the Stan Sulzmann Big Band, London Jazz Orchestra, Michael Garrick Big Band, BBC Big Band and is the regular soloist with the James Taylor Quartet.
 Nick has been increasingly sought after in jazz education.  Currently Jazz Co-ordinator and  Bmus Tutor at the Royal Academy, he teaches the Jazz LRAM pedagogical diploma and directs the Big Band. Under Nick’s direction recent Big Band projects have included performances with Peter Erskine, John Taylor, Stan Sulzmann and Kenny Wheeler. Nick is also currently on the faculty at the Guildhall School of Music and Middlesex University, as well as a regular tutor on various Jazz summer schools including Glamorgan, Wavendon, Burnley and Trinity.

If you get a chance to see either (or both) of these great British Jazz musicians you really won’t be disappointed.

Posted in: General

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Online Audio File Converter WAV, AIFF, FLAC, MP3s

smartassmusic_100x100Have you’ve ever needed to convert your audio files quickly and not had the right software to hand?
We know exactly how frustrating that can be so we’ve just added a really cool feature to SMARTassMusic which allows you to convert all of your music into the most useful audio formats, and it’s REALLY fast 🙂

You can see here that in my account I’ve converted “Urban Symphony” to MP3 (128kbps) and I’ve chosen to convert “Insomnia” to all available file formats.

CONVERTER2If you login into your account and navigate to your “downloads” page you’ll now be able to download your purchased music in the following formats:

For explanations of each file type click here 

The converter is incredibly quick and when I tested  a 4 minute WAV  the site converted it to AIFF in 6 seconds!!

In your account area you can quickly review each purchased track by pressing the play button and  download the WAV file at any time. To convert the WAV file choose an alternative format from the drop-down menu an additional download button will appear in a few seconds.
To save server space your converted files are deleted after 24 hours but your WAV files are always in your account and you can revisit and convert/ download as many times as you want.

Posted in: Audio, General, Royalty free music, Tutorials

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Royalty Free TV Themes

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We’ve just put together a package of really strong, catchy themes which would be perfect for TV shows, DVD titles and Video credits.
If you’re tired of hearing royalty free cheesey sounds and lame music then you should like these 🙂

Big Bang Theory – a hard hitting, “in your face”  RnB groove with great production and an annoyingly catchy tune.
Break The Ice – is a solo piano piece with rhythmic sections contrasting with more lyrical passages.
Carousel (incl strings) – is a beautiful theme tune played on two classical guitars (by concert guitarist Jonathon Preiss) with a wonderfully crafted string arrangement. If you like class, with a catchy tune then this is it!
Urban Symphony – is a constant best seller on the site and combines beautiful baroque style strings with modern Rap beats.
Beach Party – is a hugely popular track which uses a classical guitar with common dance music sounds and grooves
Burlesque – is a raunchy, 12/8 groove and a very catchy string line.
Funking Brass – is an “out and out” 60’s groove with modern kit sound. Brass riffs and heavy Hammond organ.
Another Time – combines orchestral strings with modern beats in a dark, powerful track.
All Over Now – is a cool, triumphant track with heavy guitars and synths.

The entire package of 12 full length tracks is available to buy here (£49, $79, 57 EUR).

Posted in: General, Royalty free music

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Dramatic Background Music

smartassmusic_100x100 We’ve just uploaded a large amount of high quality Dramatic background music from TV composer Alex Khaskin.

Each track creates a dramatic backdrop, perfect for video,  expertly using different textures and rhythms to create a feeling of suspense or tension.

There are 38 different cuts in all, which are available to license and download individually or as a collection of all 38 tracks at an amazing £69.99 ($110, 79EUR).

This pack has  got to be a must for any TV/Video production company.
Check out the amazing value “Dramatic Bumper Pack” here.

Posted in: General, Royalty free music

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Scary Halloween Music

Scary Music

It’s that time again, when many of you will be looking for scary music
We’ve got a great selection of professionally produced  scary, eerie and fun Halloween tracks.

Check out the scary background music with great tracks such as :
“Haunted House “and “Horrible Encounter”, “Psycho Therapy” by Michael Talyor,
“Evil Returns“, “Gloomy Picture” and “Trapped Creature” by Alex Khaskin.
“Home Alone” by James Treweek,

For some great themes have a listen to :
Dark Skies” a creepy, slow yet beautiful theme………. and the bestseller “Shadows” another great orchestral theme, which is arranged in the style of Danny Elfman.

We’ve also put together various compilations of Horror and Halloween music.

Our tracks are some of the highest quality you’ll find anywhere, composed and produced by professional musicians and perfect for TV, Film and Video.

Have fun 🙂

Posted in: Royalty free music

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