monday underground #4: "spontaneous piano 1"

this music was created on the fly: a combination of expected and unexpected melodies and harmonies discovered within different musical contexts.

a high percentage of the playing is intentional, that is i hear it before i play it, but there is plenty of randomness thrown in, with the handful of gaffes usually transformed into areas of focus, rather then glossed over in an effort to hide them. as my dear friend matt used to say: “don’t say ‘whoops,’ say ‘there!'”

not sure how this will translate as visual art, but i want to have monday underground be the home to behind-the-scenes content offered warts and all. i hope to do more of this in the future, as well as shining light on some of the hidden steps in the songwriting process…

a little background:

before i ever wrote songs, i spent a lot of time making up music on the piano. i believe “noodling” is the technical term. these performances mostly took place late in the evening – well after midnight, and sufficient drinking to uncork the juices. i never bothered recording anything, not wishing to have the spell broken in the sober morning light.

over the years, this kind of improvisation has become a central form of relaxation, and though i often hit many of the same chords and figures (my wife kristin could easily list out a few dozen), i’ve discovered many interesting ideas by feeling around the keyboard. these ideas have been the source of many monday songs, especially those with more original harmonic structures.

as a kid, i took piano lessons on and off for years, but i lacked discipline and spent more time shouting in frustration than building technique. it wasn’t till i found a guy who taught “music” rather than “piano” that i got excited about playing. i’d bring in songs i liked, he’d show me how to figure them out and solo over different sections. then he’d recommend music: “the nightfly” by donald fagan and “mingus” by joni mitchell were two stand outs. high art compared to some of the music i brought in (jethro tull’s “a” was a point of focus for some weeks.)

these lessons were highly inspiring, and i started practicing a lot more and thinking about songs from the inside out. i also promised myself i would own a rhodes piano and an oberheim, like my teacher had. (i still have the rhodes in my studio). though i’ve played keyboards in a handful of bands, playing by myself has always been most comfortable, my struggles with tempo and precision hidden behind my legato playing and my exploration of “outside” harmonies. after spending a decade of recording myself playing, my time and technique have solidified significantly. it’s still mostly legato and often outside, but it’s mostly intentional nowadays, and i’ve come to like the final results, even when i’m sober.

for me, songwriting is an act of search and discovery, and these daily sessions are the purest form. the more piano i play, the more the possibilities seem to stretch out. it’s particularly gratifying when i listen to this music months later, but am still able to anticipate the next steps, not by way of memory, but rather because the brain that created it still has the same quirks and ruts that coaxed certain paths based on familiar musical contexts.

let me know what you think.