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Can I learn how to play piano by myself?

Hi there, my name’s Will. I’ll tell you my method to learn piano with just me, myself, and I (and a good internet connection). I consider myself a highly competent pianist, for reasons listed below:Composed and arranged pieces, recorded, and performed them live with my band ‘James Street Jam’ (see link here for songs composed) after 5 years of self teaching, but I probably could have done it after 3. (see here for music: The James Street Jam)Play piano at weddings (not just my sister’s), but friends and friends of friends that I didn’t even know but recommended me after hearing me at a friend’s wedding. I was also paid well for these gigs if that helps.Worked with youth concerts as the sit in pianist in Italy and the UK and played with a gospel choir.Performed as a stage musician on the grand piano in Westfield Shopping centre as a paid position in London.In terms of ability, I can play pretty much any pop/charts song by ear, I can also do the same with moderately difficult jazz and classical pieces, but my preferences has always been jazz.I’ve never had a formal piano lesson in my lifeI started playing when I was 17 years old after finding my older sister’s dusty cheap keyboard on the top shelf. This was probably due to all of my siblings leaving home, (I have 4 sisters and 1 brother) while I was the last remaining before setting off to university. I had a lot of time on my hands and I wasn’t used to it, so I got into learning the melody to songs with just my right hand from YouTube piano tutorials. Time passed and the dusty keyboard began to limit me. So I put together the money I’d saved up from working part time in the kitchen at McDonald’s (yes, really) and approached my parents asking if I should buy a $450 Casio Weighted 88 Key Digital Piano.Here my Dad gave me some of the best advice I have received, I was learning to drive at the time and needed the money to get lessons, too.But he said ‘If you don’t buy this new keyboard now, you’ll never get it, and you might not have the same motivation to keep playing’He was right, it was a big investment, but I’d already put in hundreds of hours into the dusty old keyboard, and it would inspire me to keep going. It did. I played on throughout sixth form. Formed a mini band with my sixth form pals. Played some gigs. Got some free beers. And went to uni with some pretty sick piano skills.I won’t carry on with the rest of my story as it’s pretty darn long. I’ll instead give you my methodology in self learning. It’s a really interesting process and completely and utterly different to formal lessons.Methodology to self learning pianoStart with the reasons you want to learn: ‘impress someone with a song’, ‘play to a decent standard in this particular style’, ‘write my own music for gigs’, ‘understand how to compose’.Once you find out why it is you want to start. START THERE. Don’t go through a formal procedure in learning the scales, learning how to sight read, or how to put a triad together. Learn the song. Or listen to the style you like and copy it.Once you’ve got a few songs under your belt from tutorials on youtube, you start piecing the - what seems at first to be a confusing illogical mess of black and white - keys together and understanding ever so slightly how the structure works. Keep learning songs and impressing people.This is where the brain starts to become naturally curious as to how, why, and what works with your playing. Your fingering starts to change after a few months of playing, so does your understanding of scales, keys, chords, etc. You notice patterns.Pop songs all rely on very similar rhythm of a 4/4 beat, very similar chord make-up, and song structure, start piecing it togetherNow as you reach the limit of playing in the dark and can’t really push yourself further without a bit of understanding of how it all works. The fun ‘do’ part is exchanged with a few nights of ‘working out scales, and different keys and what sounds good together’ from the songs that you’ve learntThe left hand punching down chords a la Thelonious Monk will come in to support your sticky right fingers stumbling on the melodies. Don’t worry, this will improve over the course of the first year.Invest your time in learning this way. Don’t buy loads of books, don’t pay for an expensive teacher. If you are truly willing to learn to play, just learn by the same reasons that you started in the first place. The boring stuff honestly fits around your fun. People will tell you to get lessons at the start, they’ll tell you you’re doing it ALL wrong and you sound crap. But bollocks to all that. Just keep going until you can out play them after a year or so of learning. It’s a fast learning experience so get ready for the ride. It’s only fast if you are willing to push yourself so just keep at it.My Timeline:Month 1: this is funnyMonth 3: I can impress these people!Month 6: I don’t ever see myself getting good… (hardest part to keep going)Year 1: Wait a minute, I’m got pretty darn good! Music theory makes senseYear 2: I’m way too confident in my abilities and think I’m Mozart. I can play pretty much any pop song by ear with both hands and make it sound pretty with some half decent arpeggios.Year 3: I’ve still got a long way to go if I want to ‘actually’ be ‘really’ good, but I can write my own stuff and play some interesting solos/improvisationYear 4 - 6: I’m definitely up thereYear 7: I’m at a very good standard and have the capacity to learn mostly anything at any level of complexity if I put in the time. I have a deep understanding of music theory. (second hardest part to keep going)So I’m 24 now and I kick ass at playing piano. Let me know if you want more info on how I learnt/learn (we’re always still learning no matter what level).

How do I play electric guitar chords, by ear or notation?

I don’t know. How do you play chords on your electric guitar? I’m assuming that you are not asking the question to which the answer is, “With your fingers!” You are alluding to some kind of dichotomy between selecting a chord to play in the process of playing along with someone else’s music. That is, you want to know whether it’s better to find a chord progression to play for a song or to suss it out by ear alone. In that context, I can emphatically say, “Use both!”What you are really asking is, “What’s the best way to figure out the chords used in a song?” I always try to find several unofficial, free sources as I can for a song before resorting to commercial sheet music. Here is my process.Search for “<song title> chords” on the internet using your favorite search engine. This should yield at least a dozen or so chord-and-lyrics song sheets for the song unless it’s some obscure or old song (50+ years old) that no one cares about enough to have worked up. If there are more than one different songs with the same or a similar name (e.g., Fire or Crazy), then include the songwriter’s or the artist’s name in the search string and search again.Create a plain text file to put all your internet research for the song in one place. The idea is to “scrape” non-copyrighted material from the internet that you find useful using the clipboard (copy/paste) buffer instead of re-transcribing it by hand. This plain text file will remove (“filter out”) all web page formatting and give you a clean starting point for your own document formatting scheme should you choose to create something similar to the documents you find on the internet.Compare several versions of the song worked up by different people with your guitar at the ready. Try playing what you see while you look through these and decide which are useful and which are not. There is a lot of crap out there; don’t waste your time with it. Here are some things to look for.Is there a general consensus about what the chord progression is, or do different versions diverge broadly. When they are different, this is a tip-off that some of these people were working by ear alone and were just guessing.Do the chords sound reasonably close to the song as you know it? If it does, then scrape it and save it in your text file. Also save the URI (web address) of the page so you can easily go back to it and look again later.Is the chord sheet obviously crap, that is, put together by someone who knows less about music than you do? Don’t waste your time.Do different versions all sound the same, but have totally different chords? Usually, this means that people have worked up the song in a different key because they can’t sing it in the original key, being too high or low for their vocal range. The other common reason is that they can’t play it in the original key and have transposed it one that they can play.Look for indications of capo use to allow for reconciling the chords of the key being played with the chords required by the performance key signature. This is usually fairly obvious, as in song sheets indicating guitar chords in the keys of E♭ or B♭. For E♭, it’s obvious that you should slap on a capo at the first fret and play chords for the key of D because no guitar player has ever written a song in E♭. The same thing goes for B♭ for the most part. A singer may want to sing a song in B♭, though, so experienced side men know to slap the capo on at the third fret and finger chords for the key of G, which, of course, is the favorite key of guitar players.Before you get too far into analyzing and comparing internet chord sheets, start comparing these to videos from the internet. This is where you ear becomes at least as important as what you read. Here is what I look for.Does this chord sheet show the right key? If not, is the right key higher or lower? (You should be able to identify the tonic by ear. This is the tone that corresponds to the key signature of the song. I just slide up and down the high E string, or first string, until I match the tone to the song as it plays.)If it’s higher, can I play the same chords and adjust the pitch with a capo somewhere between the first and the fifth fret? Old songs were often sped up to fit on 45rpm discs. Ignore this and play the standard chords with a capo.If it’s lower, is the “true key” something reasonable that I could play without a capo? Really old rock videos from before electronic tuners were used will show crappy musicians playing standard chords with their guitars tuned flat. In these cases, ignore the tuning and look at their hands. It’s usually G. Occasionally, a song was slowed down with analog recording to make the studio version sound different (e.g., Linda Ronstadt’s cover of Crazy in B), but sung in a standard key in live performances to accommodate guitar players who can’t put a capo on a negative fret. (Linda did Crazy in C, just like Willie Nelson, who wrote the song, when she did it live. Patsy Cline did Crazy in B♭ in her recording and live because that’s where she liked it. The backup musicians just had to figure something out, like transposing it to G and putting a capo on the third fret.)If it’s not obvious what key and chords are being played, find videos of live performances and see if you can see what chords the rhythm guitarist is playing. You will have to get clever with the pause button to see the guys in the back because if they show close-ups of a guitarist’s hands, it’s usually the lead guitarist doing a solo. Even then, you should be able to suss out the key playing along by ear and observing what box patterns you are using. (Sorry, but understanding scales and intervals really pays off here.)Once you’ve got a chord progression nailed down that you think is valid, play along with your favorite recorded version of the song to check out that assertion. If it doesn’t sound right all the way through, then go back and figure out what’s wrong in the “bad spots”, that is, where it doesn’t sound exactly right to you.Did any of your discarded lead sheets show something different? If so, and that something else sounds better, don’t be afraid to adjust your chords progression to be a compromise between one person’s take on the chords and that put forward by someone else.Do all the different chords shown at a certain point sound reasonable, but none is quite “right” when you listen to the recording? This usually means that the actual chord being played by the artist is none of the simple chords shown by amateurs playing by ear, but some sort of compromise between them. For example, if one person says “G” and another person says “C”, then it may be mostly a G chord, but with a C tone instead of the B tone. This is a G chord with a sustained fourth, or Gsus4. Guitar players often write songs with chords like this because they are convenient to play.Does some chord sound “wrong”, but everyone agrees that that’s what it is? This may be totally correct, some kind of transient modulation (key change) that the songwriter intended. Not every song is a “three-chord special”. However, there are cases where the accumulated folk wisdom of crappy guitarists has promulgated a totally incorrect chord and this mistake has been perpetuated by their teaching it to other people. The actual chord played by the original artist may be something else entirely. A good example of this is the Fmaj7 throughout Cowgirl in the Sand. A professional taught the song to me and a video of Neil Young playing the song live confirmed that it was the right chord. It sounds exactly right if you listen closely. Yet, most song sheets show just a simple F at those points. Well, that’s 75% right as the three tones in an F major triad (F, A and C) are also in the Fmaj7 chord, but the fourth tone of that tetrad, the E tone, is missing. When you play all four tones of that tetrad, it sounds 100%, totally right. (Neil does play regular F chords in the song, too, but a lot of the chords are Fmaj7, not F.) If you don’t know enough music theory to figure out this kind of thing on your own, you’ll have to trust your ear to distinguish between contending candidates for “the right chord”. Someone usually has it right at least somewhere in the song.Does some chord sound “wrong”, and no one agrees about what it is? If you lack the musical training to figure this out structurally, you may be able to suss out what it is different people are hearing that seems to fit, but isn’t exactly right. (This is like that “Laurel/Yanni” sound clip.) It may be that everyone is partially correct. In that case, figure out which tones are common to both candidates. Usually this will be a dyad, a two-tone “chord”. These are usually correct. Try to figure out what additional tones will complete the “right” sound you want. Sometimes, it’s the union of two or more contending chords, that is, all the tones in both chords. This conglomerate will have at least four tones, and maybe as many as six, but four or five tones is the most common. The resulting chord may be a diminished chord, a minor or major seventh, a minor sixth, or an augmented or diminished fifth. Whatever it really is, look for a fingering that makes sense in the context of the other chords in the song. Guitarists don’t write songs with chords they can’t play.If the chord progression you finally settle on still doesn’t seem to adequately support the melody, it may be that all your sources are giving you the same minimal, oversimplified version of the song. By “oversimplified”, I mean that when you strum the chords with the appropriate rhythm, you have enough to allow you to sing the melody and stay on key, but not enough to hear the melody in the accompaniment when no one is singing. This is the case with most popular songs with just three or four different chords. Instead of strumming one, simple, three-tone chord for four bars or so, figure out a sequence of related chords to play in between the principal chord changes. These intermediary chords are usually tetrads. Experiment with these until you find something that fits and allows you to hear the melody line when you outline the chords with an arpeggio instead of strumming. These transitional chords are often formed by adding a fourth tone to the preceding triad that is also found in the next triad as sort of a “look ahead”. These extra tones can also be a “look back”. Here are some examples.A song starts out with a C for four bars before changing to an F chord for several more bars, then to a G chord to end the phrase. Between the C and F, a C6 (or its inversion Am7) might work. Between the F and the G, an F6 (Dm7) is nice. After the G, the dominant seventh (G7) will provide a tasty transition back to the C at the beginning of the next phrase. The additions may not be appropriate for every song that uses C, F and G, but you may be surprised at how often it will work well.A lot of songs with simple chord progression include both major and minor triads. Either before or after the minor chords, try inserting the seventh of that chord. That minor seventh chord may be the “half way point” between the minor triad and the adjacent major triad. That is, it may be the union of all the tones in both chords.Sometimes, a transitional chord between two chords will have “weird tones” in it that are “accidentals”, or tones not in the scale of the key signature in which the song is set. When this works and sounds good is when at least one chromatic line (an ascending or descending sequence of tones varying by a half-tone) exists between the preceding triad and the succeeding triad. The idea is to “mix” the two chords in some fashion, using tones from both chords as well as intermediary tones in a chromatic line between the first chord and the second chord.Let’s say that the chords you have call for a C chord followed by a G chord. (This is a major triad followed by its dominant triad.)The C chord has the tones C, E and G.The G chord is G, B and D.The G tone is common to both chords, so start with that.C and D are a whole tone apart, so a chromatic line between them suggests using C♯ for a chromatic line.The remaining two tones in the flanking chords are the E from the C chord and the B from the G chord. We could use either one as the third tone of our “weird” transitional chord, or we can do something different. We could use both tones. Experiment to find sounds that interest you.Because the interval between the two remaining tones to be dealt with is a perfect fifth (7 half-tones) in one direction (E→B) and thus a perfect fourth (5 half tones) in the other direction (B→E), splitting the difference (B♭, 6 half tones) might be too much of an abrupt shift. Or, a B♭ might be exactly the thing we need to foreshadow the B tone in the G chord that will be played next. Let’s do that.We’ll keep the E from the C chord to maintain continuity with the C chord in contrast to foreshadowing the B tone with a B♭ tone.So, our four tones are E, G, B♭ and C♯, which is also known as D♭. This is a standard transitional chord, a diminished seventh, “E diminished seventh”.A convenient fingering for Eº7 is XX2323.Lastly, if all your efforts to come up with a chord progression that sounds good to you are and is still wanting, you can purchase full-blown staff notation sheet music for the song that includes guitar chords. Be warned, though, that arrangements for guitar for sale on the internet and in “fake books” from music stores often have deficiencies that make them a poor investment.Commercial sheet music may be no better for your purposes than chord sheets you can get for free on the internet. If you don’t read music, you’re paying for a lot of stuff you won’t use. The chords indicated in a free chord sheet may be exactly the same as those shown on your pricey score.The guitar chords in a full staff score are usually something of an afterthought. The chords shown are always extracted from charts and show fingerings as far down the neck as possible rather than those that are easiest to play or convenient shapes up the neck a bit.Fake books are generally transcribed by music students using an electronic keyboard to test their arrangements. They work fast and make mistakes. Often, the guitar chords shown don’t reflect the way the original artist actually played the song.If the recording from which they are working is in a weird key, like E♭ major, all the chords will be in that key instead of indicating the use of a capo at the first fret and chords for the key of D major.

What makes your song stand out from the others?

Do you mean “a song”? I haven’t written or published any successful songs, nor any song that anyone, even I, thinks is particularly remarkable. Or, did you mean “your” in the sense of “one’s”? I’ll take that one because it amounts to the same thing as “a song”.I’m not done beating you up about grammar. What exactly does “the others” mean here? If you meant songs by other people, that is, by people other than I, myself (because you said “your”), then what you need is the possessive, “others’”. In that case, “the others’” isn’t right because no one talks that way. Let’s just go with, “What makes one song stand out from other, similar songs?” (There is no “the” because we’re not talking about any particular group of songs. It's better to talk about “similar songs”, an undefined group of songs that are otherwise indistinguishable from one song that we are examining in detail.) Stay tuned. There’s a reason why I sounded of about language use, which you will see if you slog through this to the end.Now we’re getting somewhere. Precisely defining the parameters of a question helps to focus analysis. To be honest, what you are really asking here is probably something like, “How can I make my inane, formulaic ditty into a pop hit?” That’s really what you were thinking, isn’t it? Rather than dismiss such a jejune query with admonitions to study up on the musical principles employed in hits by master songwriters in the past, I’ll share some of the cynical observations I’ve made in studying popular hit songs while trying, unsuccessfully I might add, to concoct one of my own.What you’re looking for is what songwriters refer to as….(drum roll)…HOOKS!What is a “hook”? It’s that little thing in a song that catches your attention and won’t let go. Long after the song is over you keep thinking about it and eagerly await it each time you hear the song. Often, it’s the only thing you can recall about the whole song. It’s the thing that drunks in karaoke bars try to sing when they get up on stage, but completely blow off doing any other part of the song.So, what are these “hooks”? How can I use them to write a hit song? I’ll give you a few examples of the most glaring examples of employing them, but I’m as clueless as anyone about how to come up with one on my own. Consider these.The gut-wrenching soloHave you ever heard the song Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty? I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t a seasoned musician who could repeat the lyrics of, much less sing the melody of the verses. They are both totally forgettable, but that sax solo on the bridge! Yow. Once you hear it, you’ll never forget it. There are no lyrics, just sax. Many people don’t even know the title of the the song, but as soon as they hear that sax solo, they sing along, “DOOT-doo, doo-doo DOO doo DOOOO….”The same thing goes for Eric Clapton’s solo for the chorus of Layla. It has lyrics, which people will sing along with, but what they remember most is the guitar solo melody line, “Dootly-ootly DOOO, DEE DAA DOO doo…” Nobody tries to sing this guitar line, because it doesn’t match the lyrics or the vocal melody line. but they remember it and don’t pay attention to anything else in the song. Almost no one knows how to sing the verses correctly, but it doesn’t matter. That solo is seared into their brains.The killer intro — There are lots of these, but the one that has always impressed me the most is Slash’s intro to Sweet Child o’ Mine, the big hit by Guns N’ Roses. The killer intro may be considered a special case of the standout solo, but it operates a little differently in that its sole function is to grab your attention and propel you into the main body of the song. This is different than a solo later in the song which is a thematic break, an interlude of “something different” before returning to the substantial body of the song. Instead, the killer intro gets you going and hands off, leaving it to the song itself to hold your interest. The killer intro is like the ringmaster at a circus, whereas the internal solo is just one of the circus acts, albeit the one you remember most. Sweet Child o’ Mine may have been a hit song without that intro because it’s engaging and people remember it because it has other hooks. However, it’s certain that without Slash’s intro it wouldn’t have been as big a hit.The lyric that no one can forget — This is that line that everyone repeats. Usually, it’s the one thing that people remember about the song.It can be something sinister and foreboding, like the last line of the last verse in Hotel California: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!” (Eeeeek!)It can be a line that becomes a meme in popular culture, especially something with topical socio-political significance. It works best if it’s also the title or the first line of the the song, like Take This Job and Shove It (which is both the first line and the title) or Get a Job. An outstanding example of how one good line or phrase can propel an otherwise lackluster tune onto the charts is Give Peace a Chance. Do you remember anything, anything at all from that song except this line? — “All we are saying is give peace a chance!”The cool chord progression — It doesn’t have to be new or unique to be a great hook. In fact, some of the biggest hits that have a distinctive chord progression use well-known progressions that are nevertheless not on of the standard, overused patterns in pop music. The important thint is that it has to be dramatic.The so-called “flamenco” (vi-V-IV-III), or harmonic minor chord progression has popped up in a hit song at least once a year for decades. Typically in pop music it’s Am-G-F-E as in Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (Animals) or Runaway (Del Shannon). Few realize that Sultans of Swing (Dire Straits) uses the same progression, but it’s just in another key as Dm-C-B♭-A.One song that is mainly built on a chord progression that is unique is Pinball Wizard (The Who). Peter Townsend belts out this one blasting his chords through a heavily amplified system. But, it’s not just the loudness, the heavy gauge strings or the sweeping arc of his arm in his muscular strumming technique that sticks in one’s head. It’s the fact that the chord progression in the intro uses an unusual repeated motif of a sustained fourth chords followed by the basic major triad upon which the sustained fourth is based. These occur in a descending line until a resounding E chord, then bounces around a little before going into the first verse. This isn’t the same as the killer intro (although it is one!) because the verses follow the same progression, muted just enough to allow the lyrics to be heard. The important thing is that it’s dramatic, holds your attention and is unusual, so you don’t know exactly what to expect next. I think people are fascinated by this progression because it’s not easily replicated if you’re not a skilled musician.The best chord progression I’ve ever heard in popular music is another one of Hotel California’s many hooks. Everyone recognizes the chord progression of the verses, even if they can’t sing along with them very well. As far as I know this chord progression is unique. Its origin might be found in classical music because it’s just too good to have not been used before. A classical musician told me that the verse is a fugue. The progression in the chorus is different, relaxed and somewhat nondescript, but it serves well as a welcome respite from the stirring verses. Anyone who wants to write hits should study the chord progressions of this song.The sweet melody — The melody doesn’t have to be overly dramatic or novel. In fact, if it’s calm and soothing, it might work best. The important thing is it has to be memorable. It has to be an “ear worm” that people can’t get out of their heads and walk around humming. There are so many great examples of this hook that it’s impossible to list just a few, so I won’t list any. Melodies are important hooks, but the usefulness tends to be short-lived in garnering popularity. As soon as an equally evocative ear worm takes hold, it drives out the old one, which is then rapidly forgotten. For a short time, though, the melodic hook shines like a beacon of holy light in the night, drawing in all who gaze upon it.The quirky riff — This is some little melodic or other performance anomaly that breaks the monotony in an otherwise standardized melody. It can be as little as a single note, but it has to be totally unexpected, at least the first time. Typically, it’s an accidental or a series of them, that is, a tone or tones deviating from the scale being used in the rest of the song. These can be in chords that “don’t fit”, that is, containing one or more non-scale tones. It can also be a transitory change in tempo, like a delay, or compressing beats. It can be modulation, or changing keys, either permanent or transitory. Whatever the quirk is, its use, if short in duration, demands that it be repeated so it is not taken as a mistake by the performer. When done right, the listener anticipates subsequent occurrences and takes delight when they happen. The quirk can be an oddity, like spoken words or shouts, but it must be memorable. It must also add to listener interest despite being “wrong”.Poetic lyrics — This is why I was beating up the querent about grammar at first. Use of language is important in songwriting and is largely overlooked in the pursuit of hit-making. When language is used well it makes a big difference. Very few songwriters write song lyrics that could stand alone as poetry. Read the text of the lyrics to a lot of songs and all you see is drivel, like, “Ooh, ooh, baby, ya got the thing, ooh, ooh…” The song might become a hit for other reasons, but the lyrics are crap. If the lyrics are superior prose or poetry, however, that alone may be enough to merit its becoming a hit song.Read the lyrics by Jewel for her song These Foolish Games, or better yet, Standing Still. Are these not great poems?Bob Dylan’s early songs are chock full of pithy lyrics with subtle implications and surrealistic imagery that intrigues, mystifies and delights. They gave him the Nobel Prize for Literature no less. Without such exemplary lyrics, his songs might have gone unnoticed, but he did write them. They, too, are poetry, even if they often deal with commonplace, unremarkable topics.

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