The Great Rock N’ Roll Myth (and Piano and Strings)

Gingko Leaf Last Fall

I’ve reminisced on this blog about being in a band in the 80’s in San Francisco quite a few times. Don’t get me wrong, it was one of the best times in my life.

After a year of studying music seriously, I can tell you with 100% accuracy that any band that says they just picked up instruments and threw together a band either did not tell the whole story. They might have started as a rag tag band, but then they absolutely put in the time and effort and studied music theory to get to that next level. I’m talking about bands that “made it”, not the one I was in – although for my level of effort back then, we ” made it” as far as we could. Even some rock bands who were deemed lousy or sloppy players, at least one player knew what he or she was doing. The Sex Pistols come to mind, but they would be my low bar. Some other bands were way better than the myth they perpetuated.

I’d lament the fact that looking back I see a young man in his 20’s who dreamt of fame and success but had not put in the work. I wasn’t quite shallow because I did one thing that could have gotten me to the next level. I took 2 or 3 piano classes at Chabot College and could site read. I remember playing Bartok pieces – little folk songs and loving it.

Fast forward 30 years, and I’m deep into music theory – mostly concentrating on understanding the keys, circle of fifths and experimenting with key changes and even song structures.

A couple recent songs have departed from the usual 3 minute pop song – most notable, the Hans Arp dada joke piece. Its not at all a 3 minute pop song, but is my first attempt at a piece with four movements. The movements follow a story line with intro, build up, climax and finale / release. I’ve had this idea I call a “Pocket Symphony” in my head. Its not a pop song (or is it?) But it would be way too prententious to think of it as classical music. And I hate “Rock Operas”. I Googled it and found that phrase has been used since 1928. Very interesting. My use of the phrase in my music is meant to be very tongue in cheek.

Perhaps the best part in all of this is that contrary to what I had thought a year ago (that I’m a guitarist who might use piano as a fill or accompanying instrument), its exactly the exact opposite.

I’ve learned that I think much better as a composer with a piano – and then layer in other instruments. This doesn’t mean I won’t compose with other instruments, but I fully expect the majority will be piano first.

I’ve also found that using piano and then one or two stringed instruments – all with just an effect here or there produces the best results.

Musically, its been my favorite year, musically speaking.

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