Taking Part in the Project

Thank you for considering participating in this “learn to play music video series”. The following are some recommendations for the recording sessions to go smooth and be great.

These recordings can be scheduled any day or time. Regarding dress, wearing a solid shirt over a print is easier on the video encoders and wearing the same shirt for future recordings will help in the editing.

The minimum I need is a picture of you sitting behind your instrument which is for the website. The next level of involvement, but not required, would be a short interview with some basic background information such as your name, how long you’ve been playing, what you’ll be playing today. If you’d like, and I encourage this, you can speak on other subjects like who your influences were, how you got started, your philosophy on music, what it feels like to play and play for others, how important music has been in your life and if learning to play was worth it. Your comments on the mechanics of playing, how to practice, fast or slow, may help someone who is just starting out. Talking about your career, gigs you’ve been on, people you’ve met are all topics of interest. The subjects are endless and the conversations would provide valuable insight to would-be players. They can happen at the beginning of the session or interspersed throughout. I would be willing to do a session with very little playing and mostly talking. These conversations could be used if we were trading work for a documentary I was making on you. On Jeopardy the show starts with the contestants playing a round before Alex Trebeck talks with them so they’re loosened up. We can do the same and start any conversation after the first break. You can bring up these topics or I can ask you questions both of which can be discussed in the pre-session conversation.

These recordings can be replayed by the student so going over the material more than once is not necessary. This may be difficult because it’s contrary to how teachers normally teach which is by repetition. Because the student for piano follows both your hand and the shadow when a note is depressed playing cleanly avoids a lot of confusion. The slightest depression of a key produces this shadow so resting your fingers on the keys or hitting two notes instead of one makes the song or lesson difficult to follow and learn. The same holds true for other instruments regarding playing cleanly. For recording guitar I found it best for the player to be sitting with the instrument propped up on a leg and the neck of the guitar resting in a modified guitar stand. Positioning it like this keeps it steady. One player who wanted to keep time by tapping his foot had to switch to the leg the guitar wasn’t resting on. For drummers the compromise will be to play with the toms, snare and cymbals positioned so the cameras get a clean view of each. A cymbals position, which might be easier to play, might need to be moved so it doesn’t block the view of the tom.

Scott Grube recorded a session playing whole songs but also played riffs demonstrating how to use trills and slides in blues piano. These riffs lasted no more than 30 seconds and stopped abruptly but I wished he could have tied in a small ending that a student could learn as a mini song for a greater sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. It is fine if a player is unable to do this.

As mentioned earlier one of the players leaned too far forward blocking the overhead camera. Since then I re-positioned the camera forward and also installed a monitor showing the overhead shot so a player can tell what’s too far forward. Leaning in is a style many players use to feel the music and express emotion. You won’t have to sit rigid or lean back and there is quite a bit of leeway especially if you’re not too tall.

One player did a whole session on fingering, hand position and strength while another spoke on the circle of 5ths. With many players recording these sessions there will be overlap but a teacher explaining what inversions are and a player showing how a song was improvised through the use of inversions can be different. Having everyone who records talk about tempo would become redundant so in the pre-session discussion I’ll tell you what’s already been taught.

Norb Wojcik has recorded over 60 Pop-Rock songs on piano over several sessions and together we have developed a way of explaining, playing and editing the instructional video which can be used as a rough outline for other players. Norb states the songs title and key, the composer and maybe some history. For example if it was no.1, what year it was popular, how it should be played or anything unusual or interesting such as tricky fingering or an interesting base line. Norb then plays 3 versions. Version 1 is played in its most simple format, maybe a single base note in the root position and one or two note melody line in the right hand. He then says how he’s going to embellish version 2 and plays it more complicated and then version 3 with greater embellishment and some more explanation of how he did it. Version 3 is not as fast and complicated as when Norb plays it out at a club, it would be too much for this series. Also he cuts the number of times he plays the melody and chorus because it would be repetitive and explains the sequencing of these when finished. He either works thru this at home before he comes, or we stop the cameras and he does this in between songs. Samples of this approach are available for review.

I recorded Mike McCullough playing drums and came up with a way to make it easier for the student to follow and of course better than what’s currently for sale on-line. I make 4 copies of the kick beater in post-production and placed them at different spots on the screen one each near the toms, snare, ride and hi-hat. In other productions the kick beater is at the bottom right; the advantage of having several scattered is the eyes can only follow one thing on the screen and no matter where the drummer hits the viewer knows what the kick is doing. I do something similar for guitars by duplicating the sound hole.

The reason I mention this is it can’t be done this with every instrument. In the piano video the left and right hands are too far apart on the screen for the viewer to see both at the same time which doesn’t make the song unlearnable, just not as easy. What I think would make the piano videos better is an explanation and demonstration of left-right hand timing, especially in relation to what the right hand is playing. That’s why your input, recommendations and insights are important. I don’t want to make this too complicated or too much work. Recording a session by just playing your version of the song will be all I need in many instances.

For piano I would like to do a session or parts of a session based on artist such as Billy Joel, Elton John, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Beatles, Fats Domino, Carol King, Ray Charles, Alisha Keys, Lady Gaga or any artist whose songs are more popular than obscure. For other instruments it would be different artists. I also want players to play a song from a fake book and show how it could be improvised and embellished, show how a song is played differently when sung, how to play when playing with other musicians and demonstrate how to learn to play by listening to a recording. Each player would not be asked or expected to do all the above, just what they’re comfortable with. Like I mentioned I would like to make deciding what to teach and play a collaborative effort with your input being vital.

Besides having to be aware not to lean into the camera, playing cleanly and following some outline we’ll try to make these sessions loose, spontaneous and fun. What’s discussed played or taught might take an interesting tangent so if a session wraps up without covering everything outlined you can come back. If you’re recording several sessions I can send you the rough draft of the previous one to learn from. This would be necessary if the first session didn’t work and we wanted to try again.

Don’t worry about making mistakes, this is a “learn to play video series” not a studio session. Of the players so far all have said something like “Let me stop and gather my thoughts” or “Let me try to explain that better”. These breaks in the flow can easily be edited out. Scott changed the ending to one song by saying oops and replaying it which was kept in because he said it jokingly. Another player who got tongue tied humorously said “we’ll edit that out” but I kept it in because it showed his personality and how charming he was. Nothing will be kept in that would embarrass or make you look anything but competent.

Werner Herzog, the film director, said he would give up 10 years of his life if he could play an instrument. He was talking about the ecstasy of playing and making a piece of music yours. Personally I’m still a tyro at the piano but know the feeling and also know how much of your industry, hard work, passion and dedication it took to become good. I always think when someone walks through the door for a session “here comes the talent”. I’m just a video editor and like most people am in awe of your talent and thankful people like you exist and feel grateful you have come to record a session. The world needs more music, more piano players as Dan Giglioni said and showing non players to play is giving them a very precious gift.

I hope we can come to an agreement to what’s fair compensation for these sessions either through a cash payment or trade or a combination of both. I am looking forward to working with you.