2

Piano as a
nd

Instrument

A Beginner’s Guide


Ben Yates

Copyright © 2005-2006 by Ben Yates

No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system without the prior written permission of Ben Yates unless such copying is expressly permitted by federal copyright law. Address inquiries to Ben Yates at 10 Ridgeway, Ann Arbor MI 48104.

All brand and product names mentioned in this manual are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective holders, including the following:

Microsoft® Office Word Sound Forge® ACID® Fruityloops® Yamaha®

Table of Contents
Introduction.................................................................................................................1 Pop, Rock, and Music Theory .......................................................................1 The Learning Curve..........................................................................................2 Equipment...........................................................................................................2 Formatting Guide..............................................................................................3 Audio Content....................................................................................................3 Learning Piano ............................................................................................................4 First Steps ............................................................................................................4 Making Friends with your Piano..........................................................4 Having Good Technique.......................................................................5 Getting your Bearings: Finding C........................................................6 C Major ................................................................................................................7 F Major.................................................................................................................8 Relative Names ..................................................................................................8 Voicings................................................................................................................9 Rearranging Notes ...................................................................................9 Adding Bass.............................................................................................11 G Major..............................................................................................................12 “If I had $1000000”........................................................................................13 A Minor..............................................................................................................15 Tapping Your Fingers....................................................................................16 “When I Come Around” ..............................................................................17 “If I had $1000000” Revisited .....................................................................18 D Minor .............................................................................................................19

“Evil Ways”.......................................................................................................20 Chord Transformations.................................................................................21 Moving Fifths and Roots by a Full Step ..........................................23 Moving Fifths and Roots by a Half Step.........................................23 “Praise You”.....................................................................................................25 “When I Come Around” Revisited............................................................26 “Wonderwall”...................................................................................................26 Conclusion..................................................................................................................32

Introduction
One of the tragedies of the 19th century is that piano playing became separate from composing: starting with Liszt, technical virtuosity was valued over musical understanding and composing ability. And if you wanted respect, you needed years of formal training. Thankfully, this is 2006. You can hardly walk down a city block without running across a guitar player improvising on front steps, a computer looping samples through an open window, or fraternity brothers tossing improvised hip hop back and forth.

Pop, Rock, and Music Theor y
Piano as a Second Instrument is meant for someone interested in rock or pop music, with access to some sort of a keyboard or piano. You should know most of these terms before going in:
     

Note Chord Scale Octave Half Step Whole Step

This manual can be used by both experienced and inexperienced players, but unless you’re particularly talented, it’s not something you’ll complete in single

1

late night session – nor is it comprehensive. Use it as a guide, and as a push to learn new ways of playing.

The Learning Curve
After you get comfortable with a section’s topics and exercises, you should spend some time (anything from minutes to weeks, depending on your interest and playing level) fooling around – have fun, experiment, don’t worry about being technically correct. As you improve, you’ll probably be more interested in playing on your own time, and less interested in instruction as anything but a means to your own ends. The manual is designed with this attitude shift in mind: its first sections are relatively simple, and (depending on your experience with other instruments) quick to learn; its later sections both more complex and applicable to a wider range of possible playing.

Equipment
It’s best to have a real piano, but pianos are expensive. If you have a synthesizer or keyboard, make sure that it at least has touch sensitivity: that pushing keys harder creates louder sounds. Without touch sensitivity, it’s almost impossible to play with feeling. A better keyboard should have hammer action – a simulation of the hammers in a real piano. Yamaha is known for its realistic hammer action.

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Formatting Guide
As you read the manual, you’ll encounter text formatted in different ways.
    

Musical notes are italicized. Unfamiliar terms are also italicized. Chords in body text look like this: C Lyrics are
monospaced.

M ajor.

Chords in song text, and lyrics falling on chord transitions, are
monospaced and bolded.

Audio Content
The easiest way to learn music is by hearing it. This manual is therefore accompanied by audio tracks demonstrating the notes, chords, and songs described in the text. Alright, let’s dive in. Have fun.

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Learning Piano
This tutorial will guide you from basic knowledge to intermediate playing.

First Steps
A New Instrument
Learning a second language is harder than learning a first, but for instruments, the reverse is true. Nevertheless, there are concepts you should get under your fingers before playing music on piano.

Making Friends with your Piano
The piano keyboard can appear overwhelming at first glance, but playing tones on piano is in fact more straightforward than on many other instruments: each key corresponds to exactly one note. You’ve probably played around on a piano before, experimenting with sounds. If not, do so now, and frequently in the future. Instruction can only take you so far; if you want to become proficient and creative, unstructured playing is essential. In your first few minutes playing around, you’ll notice a few things:
 

As you move from left to right, the pitch of the tones increases. When you release a key, a note will stop, unless the rightmost pedal is depressed.

 

Pressing every white key consecutively creates a cheerful-sounding scale. Pressing every black key consecutively creates a pentatonic scale (which sounds “Asian” or “bluesy”)

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   

Pressing every key consecutively creates a chromatic scale. Adjacent keys played simultaneously sound dissonant. Pressing every other key often creates a pleasing chord or arpeggio. The keyboard layout is periodic: the pattern of black and white keys repeats many times.

Having Good Technique
One advantage of piano is that it’s easy to produce clear-sounding notes: simply press the key. By contrast, cleanly plucking a guitar’s strings takes practice, and so does producing smooth tone on a violin. Nevertheless, there are physical details a piano player should know:

Press keys with the tips of your fingers, but avoid using your fingernails . (If you have long fingernails, trim them.)

Keep your wrists straight and relaxed to avoid developing carpel tunnel syndrome. As with typing, pressing the keys should not bend your fingers and hands backward.

If you cannot comfortably play with a straight back and straight wrists, adjust the height of your seat.

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Getting your Bearings: Finding C
It can be difficult to know which note is which: the keys are unlabeled and identical. You’ll learn to identify each note based on the pattern of black and white keys, which is not uniform and thus can be used as a reference. The first step in this process is to locate the note C. (Figure 1)

• Figure 1:

The note C On the piano keyboard, C is the white key immediately left of each cluster of two black keys. In this diagram, keys other than C are gray or black.

Starting at one of the C notes, push each white key consecutively until you reach the next C -- you’ve played a C
Major

scale

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C Major
Chord
This is a C
Major

chord (Figure 2)

• Figure 2: C M a j o r

Notes in the C

Ma jo r

chord are shown in white.

Play the chord by pressing all three keys at once. You can use whichever fingers you like, depending on what’s most comfortable. The author uses index finger, ring finger, and little finger for this chord.

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F Major
Chord
Now move the top two notes up and play a chord again: this is F (Figure 3)
Major.

• Figure 3: F M a j o r

The F

Major

chord is shown in white.
Major

Practice moving from C

to F

Major

and back again.

Relative Names
More Precise Language
We could call each note by its letter name, but because each chord of the same type (Major, for instance) is fundamentally similar, it makes sense to use a relative naming system rather than an absolute one.

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The root of C

Major

is C. The root of a chord is the note that

corresponds to the chord's name.

The third of C chord's scale.

Major

is E. The third of a chord is the third note in that

The fifth of C scale.

Major

is G—unsurprisingly, the fifth note in the C

Major

"Eighths" are not referred to—they are just considered roots played an octave higher.

Every relative name except "root" can also refer to the distance between a note and the root. For example, F could be said to be a fourth. above C. Chords can be thought of in terms of relative distances as well. Thus, changing from C
Major

to F

Major

is sometimes called "moving to the

fourth". Moving to the fourth and back is the most common type of chord transition in folk music; it is also found in most rock and pop songs.

Voicings
Filling Out the Sound
Every sound is similar to many other sounds. More specifically, every chord can be played in countless ways.

Rearranging Notes
The notes in a chord can be played in any order. These (Figures 4-6) are all C
Major:

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• Figure 4:

A C M a j o r chord starting on E

• Figure 5:

A C M a j o r chord starting on G

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• Figure 6:

A C M a j o r chord containing two C notes

These permutations of a single chord are called voicings. If you play F the C
Major Major

starting with F rather than C, you'll see its similarity to

chord.
Major,

See what voicings you can find for F between various voicings of C
Major

and experiment with moving
M ajor.

and F

Adding Bass
Playing a chord's root with your left hand, an octave or two below the other notes, can add depth to the chord's sound. Practice moving between C low C under the C
Major Major

and F

Major

again, this time playing a
Major

chords and a low F under the F

chords.

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G Major
Chord
Play a C
M ajor

chord, then move both the root and third of the chord (C
Major.

and E) down one note: they become B and D, the third and the fifth, respectively, of G (Figure 7)

• Figure 7: G M a j o r

This G M a j o r chord is made up of B, D, and G. (C, which is not played, is marked for convenience.)

Practice moving between C if you start on G
Major,

Major, F M ajor,

and G

Major.

You'll find that

then move to C

Major

and back, it will sound
M ajor.

similar to the transition between C

Major

and F

This is because C is

the fourth of G, and F is the fourth of C.

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“If I h a d $ 10 0 0 0 0 0 ”
Putting it Together
The three chords you've learned (or, more precisely, the three relative transitions) form the basis of much pop, rock, and folk. Countless songs use only these transitions, including the 1990 Canadian hit “If I had $1000000”. Most of the song is a repeating loop: C to C
1) Major. F M ajor Major, G M ajor, F Major,

then back

is held for twice as long as the other chords.

Practice this loop until you’re comfortable with it. You may want to find voicings that minimize hand movement between chords.

2)

If you don’t already know the melody, learn how it goes by listening to the recording. In this version of the song, the melody begins on G.

In the following aid:
 

Major chords are abbreviated with their letter names. Words falling near a chord transition are bolded. Note that in the recording, these words often fall slightly before the chord is played.

C

G If I had a million

F dollars (if I had a million

C dollars)

G I’d buy you a

F house (I would buy you a

C house)

G If I had a million

F dollars (if I had a million

C

G

F for your house (a nice Chesterfield or an

dollars) I’d buy you furniture

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C Ottoman)

G And if I had a million

F dollars (if I had a million

C dollars)

G I’d buy you a

F K-car...

Before the chorus, there’s a variation, lyrically, melodically, and chordally: the final chord of the loop is G
M ajor

instead of C

Major.

C

G And if I had a million

F dollars I’d buy your

G love

Following the G

Major

chord,
Major, G Major , C Major.

The chorus itself is another loop: F

F

G If I had a million

C dollars (We’d build a tree fort in our

F yard)

G If I had a million

C dollars (You could help me, wouldn’t be that

F hard). . .

G

C

At the end of the chorus, there’s a spoken interlude; the first chord loop continues underneath it.
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We’ll revisit “If I had $1000000” later. Although you can play almost all of the song now, the final chorus contains a chord you haven’t learned yet: A
Minor.

A Minor
Chord
Play C
Major,

and move the fifth (G) up. This is A

Minor

(Figure 8), which

you’ll notice sounds sad, cool, or reflective. C and E become the third and fifth.

• Figure 8: A M i n o r A Minor C M ajor

is the relative minor of C

Major :

its scale uses the same notes as the scale simply by pressing all the

scale. You can play an A

Minor

white keys between two As. Practice moving between A
A Minor M inor

and the other chords you’ve learned. The

-F

Major

transition is especially striking. (Transitions of this type

are often found in Pop-Punk.)
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Ta p p i n g Yo u r F i n ge rs
Getting Rhythm
Kids often try to scratch their heads and rub their stomachs simultaneously. Piano players face a similar task: decoupling the left and right hands so that each can play its own pattern. Classical music requires a mastery of this decoupling, but our requirements are less stringent, in part because you won’t be playing melodic lines. Because so much music is structured around a drumset backing, learning how to tap out simplified drumset beats will help your piano playing. In this recording, the high-pitched taps are made with the right hand and the low-pitched ones with the left. When you’re learning the rhythms yourself, don’t worry about pitch, but make sure your left and right hands are playing the beats they’re assigned. Of course, you can tap your fingers anywhere, not just where a piano is.

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“When I Come Around”
‘The Rhythm’s in the Guitars’
In 1959, the Quarry Men (shortly to become the Beatles) were down on their luck.
In fact, at one time there were only three of us in the band, and we were all guitarists - George, John and me. We were playing here and there, around Liverpool, and after a while everyone else had dwindled away to get jobs, go to college, whatever. We would show up for gigs just with three guitars, and the person booking us would ask, 'Where's the drums, then?' To cover this eventually we would say, 'The rhythm's in the guitars,' stand there, smile a lot, bluff it out. There was not a lot you could say to that, and we'd make them very rhythmic to prove our point. –Paul McCartney, The Beatles Anthology

Like Paul McCartney, we only have one type of instrument available. But much rock music (thanks partly to the Beatles’ wide influence) has strong, guitar-rooted rhythms that we can easily replicate on piano. These rhythms are especially strong in pop-punk, as exemplified by Green Day. “When I Come Around” is one of the simplest of many simple Green Day songs, but it still has some emotional depth. Listen to the original recording. Almost the whole song is one chord loop: C
Major Major, G Major, A M inor, F

(and back to C

M a j o r ).

Play the loop until you’re familiar with it.

Now apply the finger-tapping pattern: the right hand plays the chords, and the left hand plays the chord roots in rhythmic counterpoint. In the aid below, the chord letters are marked where the root is played (A
Minor

is denoted A-. The right hand plays the chord one beat later.)

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C

G

A-

F

Well I heard you crying loud

C

G All the way across

Atown...

F

You can play all of “When I Come Around” except for the chorus. We’ll revisit the song later.

“If I h a d $ 10 0 0 0 0 0 ” Re v i s i t e d
The Ending
Now that you know A $1000000”.
F G If I had a million AdoG oF oG oF llars

Minor,

you can play the final chorus of “If I had

G

C I’d be rich

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D Minor
Chord
Play a C
M ajor

chord, then move every note up one step. This is D

Minor.

(Figure 9)

• Figure 9: D M i n o r D M inor

is the relative minor of F

Major.

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“Evi l Wa ys ”
Complex Rhythms, Simple Chords
“Evil ways” has only two chords: D
Minor

and G

M ajor.

When Santana

released the single in 1969, American audiences were struck with the unfamiliar sound of the transition between these chords and the song reached number 9 on the Billboard charts. Today the transition sounds familiar, but the song is still exciting if played well. Listen to the original recording. Now try playing the piano chords -- a simple alternation between D and G
M ajor. Minor

Add rhythmic counterpoint with your left hand. You can use a variation on the rhythmic pattern from “When I Come Around”. Now the hardest part -- add the melody and lyrics. (The melody starts on A.) Don’t worry about being able to do this immediately; instead, practice a few minutes each day, playing very slowly at first, until you can sing and play at the same time. The scratch-your-head-and-rub-your-stomach challenge has returned, and there is no solution except time and repetition. You can continue through the tutorial even if you haven’t been able to play and sing “Evil Ways” at the same time. The following aid is included for convenience, but only listening to the recording can give you a good feel for the rhythms.
D M inor

is denoted D-.

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(no chord) You got to change your evil

Dways

G

Dbaby

G

D-

G

D-

G

before I stop loving you you got to

Dchange

G

D-

G

baby. . .

Chord Transformations
Taking Apart the Harmonic Clockworks
There are several simple note changes that will let you turn a major chord into a minor chord, and vice versa. This section introduces many complex ideas. Don’t worry if you don’t remember all of them immediately; instead, return here repeatedly as your playing progresses. When you know chord transformations well, it’s easier to learn new songs and to create your own music.

Moving Thirds by a Half Step
J. S. Bach, the first major composer to use chords, liked to end his songs with a variation on this transformation. More recently, the Beatles used it to create original sounds.

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Play C

Major,

then move E down by a half-step -- not to D, but to E-flat (a
Minor.

black key). This is C

(Figure 10)

• Figure 10: C M i n o r

The note E-flat is outlined in white.

Moving the third of major chord down by a half-step will always transform the major chord into a similarly-named minor chord. Likewise, you can turn a minor chord into a major chord by raising the third. Play D
Minor,

then move F up by a half step, to F-sharp (a black key). This is

D M ajor.

(Figure 11)

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• Figure 11: D M a j o r

The note F-sharp is outlined in white.

Experiment with these new chords until you are familiar with them.

Moving Fifths and Roots by a Full Step
This transformation has been widely used for several hundred years. Play C
Major,

then move the G upward: this, as you know, is A

Minor.

Moving a major chord’s fifth upward will always transform the major chord into its relative minor. The fifth becomes the minor chord’s root. Likewise, moving a minor chord’s root down a full step creates a relative major chord. Try this now by playing D
Minor

then F

Major.

Moving Fifths and Roots by a Half Step
This transformation is frequently used in 1990s electronica. Play F is A
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M ajor,

then move the root down a half-step, to E (a white key). This

M inor.

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You can also turn a minor chord into a major chord by moving the minor chord’s fifth up a half-step. Play a D black key). This is B - F l a t
Major. Minor,

then move the A to B-flat (a

• Figure 12: B - f l a t M a j o r

The note B-flat is outlined in white.

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“P rai s e Yo u ”
An Opportunity for Keyboard Players
“Praise You”, a song by Fatboy Slim, juxtaposes a largely pentatonic melody with major chords. Like most electronic music, its greatest complexity is textural, not harmonic. A piano rendition ignores the electronic sound textures, and is therefore easy to play. (If you have a high-quality keyboard -- a synthesizer or sequencer -you can have a lot of fun tweaking the sounds in this song.) The chord loop is C
Major, B-f lat Major

(denoted Bb), F

Major.

Listen to

the recording to understand the rhythms.
Bb We’ve come a long long F way C together

Bb Through the hard times

F

C and the good

Bb I’ve got to

F celebrate you

C baby

Bb I’ve got to praise you

F like I

C should

Notice how Fatboy Slim chooses the types of consonant and vowel sounds that fall on chord changes. Electronic musicians share with rappers a keen ear for phonetics.

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“When I Come Around” Revisited
Playing the Chorus
Now that you know D Come Around”. This aid begins with the last line of the verse.
C G Anot F right

Major,

you can play the short chorus from “When I

...you can’t go forcing something if it’s just

D

F No time to search the world around

D

G ‘cause you know where I’ll be found when I come a-

C -round

G

A-

F

“ Wo n der wall ”
Beyond Standard Chords
“Wonderwall” was Oasis’s only top ten single in the United States. An enduring Britpop hit, it is still one of the iTunes Music Store’s hundred most downloaded songs. “Wonderwall”’s power derives in part from its ambiguity. Just as the lyrics never move beyond general statements and the concept of a Wonderwall is never explained, the harmonics themselves are ambiguous. Most of the song uses suspended harmonic patterns that only later resolve to definite major or minor chords.
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The main loop consists of several such unorthodox chords, numbered below (Figures 13-16). The left hand is added on the second verse.
1)

D, A, C, D (Left hand plays D)

• Figure 13:

“Wonderwall” chord 1 The first chord in “Wonderwall” consists of D, A, C, and another D. Subsequent chords reveal it to be a variation of D M i n o r .

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2)

F, A, C, D (Left hand plays F)

• Figure 14:

“Wonderwall” chord 2 The second chord in "Wonderwall" consists of F, A, C, and D. It is a variation of F Majo r.

3)

C, D, G (Left hand plays C)

• Figure 15:

“Wonderwall” chord 3 The third chord in "Wonderwall" consists of C, D, and G. It is a variation of C

Ma jo r.

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4)

G, A, C, D (Left hand plays G)

• Figure 16:

“Wonderwall” chord 4 The fourth chord in "Wonderwall" consists of G, A, C, and D. It is a variation of G majo r.

In the following aid, ambiguous chords are denoted with numbers; refer to the list above. Miniaturizations of the 4 chords are provided for convenience.

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1

2

3

4

1 Today is

2 gonna be the day that they’re

3 gonna throw it back to

4 you. . .

At the end of the second verse, there’s a variation leading into the chorus:

1 I don’t believe

2 that anybody

3 feels the way I

4 do about you

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Bb now

C

1 and

Bb all the roads we

C have to walk are

Dwinding and

Bb all the lights that

C light the way are

Dblinding

Bb there are many

C things that I would

F like to

Asay to

Dyou but I don’t know

4 how because

Bb maybe

D-

F you’re gonna be the one that

Bb saves me

D-

F and after

Bb all

D-

F you’re my wonder-

Bb wall

D-

F

1

1 Backbeat the

2 word is on the street. . .

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Conclusion
The first time you read this section, you probably won’t be comfortable with every topic and exercise in this book. Practice, practice, practice. Return to the parts you’ve had trouble with and play through them more slowly, in smaller pieces, until you’re more confident, then gradually increase the playing speed. Eventually, you might begin noticing the many directions your piano playing can take.

If you want to learn more pop and rock songs, keep listening for chord changes on recordings – with practice, you’ll be able to figure out the songs out more easily. (You might also notice that some of the music is formulaic. One of the disadvantages of practicing chords again and again is that simple music loses its novelty.) Buy a book of chord references, and learn as many of the major and minor chords as you can. This is doubly true if you want to play in a group. Figure out how to play all of the songs in this manual in their original keys.

If you want to write your own music, pay particular attention to the way each note and chord transition makes you feel. Conversely, rephrase your ideas and emotions into the language of chords, tones, and rhythms (and, if you have a synthesizer or sampler, textures). Find a relaxed setting where you can play without an audience present, and experiment as much as possible.

If you want to play classical pieces, you need to learn how to read music. Buy a book about it or take a class. You should also develop your “chops”, your technique. Get a book of scales and exercises. And finally, you’ll need to disassociate your right and left hands more completely. This will come with practice.

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A good classical piece to start on is J.S. Bach’s “Minuet in G” (sometimes called “Minuet 3”). Bach wrote this piece for his daughter, who was learning piano, and it combines technical simplicity with Bach’s typical brilliance.

If you want to play jazz, be prepared for a long haul – jazz is difficult. Depending on your taste in jazz and the your skill at singing while playing, you might want to buy a “Real Book” -- a technically illegal compendium of hundreds of jazz standards, sold at most music shops -and find the songs you know (or buy or download songs you don’t know). Learn the unfamiliar chords (don’t worry about the sharp and flat fifths and ninths at first), and sing the melodic lines. If you’re interested in Bebop and improvisation, learn and practice scales. Listen closely to recordings you like and learn the “licks” – eventually, you’ll develop a memorized collection that you synthesize and can put to use in your own solos. You may also want to buy a Jamie Aebersold collection (Aebersold records Jazz standards without melodic lines or solos, so you can improvise over the recordings while they play, and bundles the CDs with sheet music).

If you want to produce beats, get yourself copies of whatever your favorite software is (one possible suite is Fruity Loops, Acid, and Sound Forge), and a computer with lots of memory and storage space. Also buy a physical book about some of your software. Even if you’ve developed your own techniques, there are most likely simpler and more powerful ways of doing things that you won’t discover on your own.

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