Posts Tagged ‘piano’


Sunday, July 2nd, 2017

Over the years I’ve often complained about how long it takes me to write a single piece of music. Last year, I came up with a fun activity to combat this apparent block. I started composing tiny micro-pieces on the piano and recording them in one sitting. There was only one rule: I was to record a complete take at the end of the session, post it online, and move on with my life. Tonight I made the tenth of these little “impromptus,” adding up to about 12 minutes of music, so I thought I’d finally announce it on here, though I’m nowhere near finished. I plan to continue adding to this project whenever I get the chance.

Listen to Impromptu on Bandcamp | Watch Impromptu on YouTube

Each session (to conceive, to finalize, and to record) has taken about 2-3 hours, so the challenge has been to create long stretches of uninterrupted free time in my schedule. Usually I sit at the piano with no idea of what to do and pound some notes. Eventually, an idea begins to take shape. Some days it’s harder than others, but if I keep at it, I tend to come up with something I like. While each piece is a tiny microcosm on its own, with no relation to those around it, I like hearing how they go together as a set, too. I’m in the process of writing them down so that I can share the score with others someday (and remember what I did!).

Watch me play “D”

Saturday, January 9th, 2016

This piece isn’t new. I completed in 2009, but the recording I made at the time was poor. I’ve been meaning to re-record it for years now, and I finally did it!

This time, I added an extra challenge of recording it on video simultaneously. This meant that I had to play it perfectly in one take. I had my doubts at times (I mess up a lot), but I knew it would happen sooner or later if I kept doing it over and over again.

It reminded me of my piano lessons as a child, when my piano teacher would make me stop and go back to the beginning every time I played a wrong note.

It’s not perfect, but all the notes are right. And, overall, I am happy with the phrasing and dynamics in that take. It will never be perfect, but this is the closest. It was take number 78.

How to Develop Myself Musically

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

Old piano in the college dorm at MIT.

I want to become a better musician. Specifically, I want to write better music. I know exactly what I need to do to improve myself, but due to many excuses I make for myself (work takes up a lot of time, social obligations, family obligations, overcommitting myself to non-profit volunteering, enrolling in grad school in chemical engineering, competition with other hobbies such as Matchingfreak, addiction to social media, laziness, food comas), my musical self-development agenda has been pushed aside. That is the first problem I have begun tackling.

My grand plan to develop myself musically (partially implemented so far) involves the following activities:

  • Eliminate all other “unnecessary” activities. My main focus outside of work should be on two things: music and grad school. Anything outside of that realm should be highly scrutinized. Social activities shall be reduced to a sustainable (sane) bare minimum. I will get better at saying “no” to people. I have already leaned down my out-of-work life by withdrawing from two non-profits on whose boards I was volunteering as secretary.
  • Focused listening. Listening assignments were a large part of my undergraduate musical education. When I had a listening assignment, the only thing I would do would be to pay full attention to what I was listening with full silence in the background. That means no internet browsing, no driving, no reading, no thinking about anything else. I haven’t been doing much of that since I graduated. It doesn’t have to be music. It can be a very specific sound or a noise. It doesn’t even have to be a recording. I recently discovered, an audioblog dedicated to binaural recordings from a small town in Russia. Most are 1-minute recordings of a moment at a park, the babbling of a brook, the bumps of techno music heard through a car… The magic isn’t there unless you are paying full attention to it with your headphones. It’s making me realize all the sounds I used to hear around me, and what I’m missing out on by blocking them out mentally. While we’re on the topic of listening…
  • Construct a listening diet. I’ve been brainstorming ways to find new listening opportunities for myself to expand my ear. I flirted with the idea of spending a certain amount of time per week on finding new music, but I’m not exactly sure how I’ll structure that yet. The easiest place to start would be to revisit my listening in college, and branch out from there. And by branch out, I mean in all directions. More jazz, more opera, more ‘experimental’ music, more of Indian classical music and “non-Western” music, as well as more Western classical music, as well as progressive rock, pop, country, electronic, etc. I should create a “listening wishlist.” It would help to have a few websites I could draw guidance/inspiration from.
  • Go to concerts. I already know many places to look. It’s important to keep my personal concert-going calendar constantly updated.
  • Participate in a musical group. I’d been doing this until a few months ago. Work’s been busy, but I plan to get back into choir as soon as possible. It’s a routine that forces me to set aside time for music-making, and I enjoy it immensely.
  • Learn a new instrument. I started learning violin when I was 23, because I wanted to learn an instrument that was technically different than the piano. Now I just have to keep getting better at it.
  • Play the old instrument. Duh. I have a piano sitting right next to me, and I never touch it. Whenever I don’t take regular lessons, my motivation for playing the instrument goes to zero. The main problem is that I don’t know what to play. But we can deal with that with the following next steps.
  • Improvise. I hear all the time that a good composer is also a good improviser. It’s definitely a musical muscle I need to flex. We used to do frequent vocal improvisation exercises in high school jazz choir. It had taken me a while to get over being self-conscious, and the feeling is still there even if I’m in a room all by myself. We’ll have to fix that ridiculousness.
  • Improve piano sightreading. I must say, I’m a pretty good sightreader when it comes to voice and violin, but give me a piece of music that involves use of my ten fingers, and I’m stumped. The solution is to sightread more and more. I have tons of piano books, and there are tons of free sheet music I can download from the Internet.
  • Exercise. I’m not talking about physical exercise (sorry, mom). I have a bunch of theory books I’ve amassed over the past few years – classical Western theory and jazz theory from school, and several books on modern counterpoint or harmonic tools used in the 21st century. I should give myself assignments on writing short exercises that apply the concepts in these books. Maybe set up a certain amount of time each week to dedicate to this activity. I may come up with new musical ideas as a result.
  • Jot down ideas. I already do some of this. I either write a few notes that are stuck in my head, or I have verbal clues of musical concepts I think up during the day. It usually takes me a few years to get to them and flesh them out, but they’re all there, written out in a list!
  • Just sit down and write. I have a few unfinished pieces. It takes a long time to get into them, so I only revisit them once every few months. I’ve been unable to do it in short, consistent chunks of time. I need 4-5 hour periods, if not entire days, to be fruitful. The first step would be to make more of an effort to set aside time for them, no matter how painful. Still working out the time management logistics of this one.
  • Cherish musical friendships. I have musical friends, but I don’t see them very often. I also have a few musical friends online. It’s refreshing to share works and ideas with them.

Have I missed any? Let me know what you think!

Viola Trio

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Here’s another piece I recently finished and had recorded. This one’s a short piece for viola, cello, and piano, and is uncreatively titled Viola Trio.

The piece is written in a Dorian mode with a raised 4th degree, which creates an augmented second interval and gives it an oriental sound. The most fun part of writing it was constraining the viola and cello to a narrow range and intertwining them like vines, occasionally making them meet on the same note. By now there is no need to reiterate the fact that I can’t write anything that isn’t laden with syncopation.

My violin teacher’s husband, Ryan Leach, was nice enough to get people together to make this recording. Laurel Diskin is on viola and Scott Burns plays the cello on the recording.

Yay! I’m embarrassed to admit when I first started working on this piece. The seed was planted in December 13, 2006, when I jotted down the melody in my music notebook. I’m so glad it’s finally finished.


Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

Behold my newest composition! It’s a short piece for two violins and piano, called Boşluk (pronounced bosh-look). I’m so grateful for Justin for gathering his medical school musician friends to record this for me.

Andrew Noll, Piano (2nd year HMS)
Justin Lo, Violin I (1st year HST)
Jennifer Hsiao, Violin II (1st year Harvard BBS)

I took on the challenge of writing in Locrian mode, which is the most unstable of the modes; indeed, the piece never wanted to stay in one key but was constantly shifting around. This was good, actually, because I tend to get stuck in one key for the entirety of a piece. I’m pretty pleased with the recording, too. It came out just how I envisioned it!

Originally, this was meant to be a short and simple piece that was supposed to take me only a few days to write and enable me to get back into the music-writing groove again. It turned out to be another one of my pieces that I wrote on and off over two years, because I would take months-long breaks from it whenever I hit a writer’s block. I’ve got to stop doing that! It feels so good to bring projects to completion, especially something as simple as this.

Carol of the Bells – v.0

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

This year I decided to arrange a Christmas carol. My main inspiration was Bill Cutter, our choir director back at MIT, who had his own tradition of arranging a Christmas carol each year. So I rolled up my sleeves and messed around with Carol of the Bells! To spice things up, I wrote it in (mainly) a 19/8 meter, for two voices and piano.

Carol of the Bells (1:51)

Don’t be freaked out by the 19/8 time signature. It’s just 10/8+9/8 put together (with some other meters thrown in occasionally). I’d been meaning to write something in an unconventional meter, but hadn’t really put in the effort. In addition, I hadn’t written a “fast” piece in forever, so this piece presented me with the opportunity to explore both ideas.

It’s my second time arranging a carol – the last time was in 2007, when I arranged Joy to the World in Dorian mode (which I would love to hear performed someday).

I need your help, though; I couldn’t find a good name for it! Should I keep the name as Carol of the Bells or call it something clever?

See: a new piece

Monday, April 26th, 2010

This weekend I made an electronic piece that had been in my mind for at least two years. It is a simple enough concept, but I had never set aside the time to do it. I used sounds of recorder, violin, voice, piano, and various other sounds to create it.

Listen to See (duration: 3 minutes)

Here is a screenshot of the final product:

I’ve been in an inspired mood lately, and when Ryoji Ikeda popped up on my Pandora radio station on my drive home from work on Wednesday, I knew it was time. The other inspiration for this piece was Tenacious D’s One Note Song.

Back from the dead with a piano

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

So it seems that queenoflub is working again. The site was inaccessible to me and the rest of the world for the latter half of last year. My host was having server problems. Not having any control over my site felt depressing to say the least. It’s good to be reunited with my baby.

I finally finished a piano piece I’d been working on on-and-off since February 2007! It is called “D”. What a relief. The recording quality is very bad, so I’m finally convinced that I should buy a proper recording device. When I do, I will re-record it. I’ll probably be able to play it better by then, too.

I’m just joking.

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

Going into the new year listening to early music must have influenced me more than I’d thought. I keep singing Gregorian chants to myself. In the past week, I thought of a way to harmonize the famous chant Dies Irae, and it hasn’t left my head since. It’s so corny that I had to do it. In fact, the only way I could have the courage to do this was by convincing myself that it’s just a joke.

Listen to Diesirase (0:40)

Not surprisingly, the score looks a bit like those Gregorian chant manuscripts, too. I got lazy with the notation.

I’ve been on an arranging kick lately. I should get back to working on my original compositions.

my keyboard

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

I bought a keyboard from craigslist today for only $30! It’s perfect for me, because I hate walking across campus to get to the practice rooms to start my music theory homework. Also, sometimes I get song ideas, but I never develop them because I don’t feel like finding a piano. Anyway, yesterday I’d gone to the Guitar Center, and the cheapest thing they offered me cost $200. I’m so glad I found this one, because it has all I need and nothing more. Thank you.