Monday, 1 October 2012


A little digression today about a common musical emergency. That great hit song. In this case, Umbrella by Rihanna. You want to play it so you get an easy arrangement from the local music shop. You get it back home and it doesn't sound anything like the record. That was the emergency faced by Jane, one of my piano students today. Boy, did that take me back! When I was a teenager in Abertillery we'd go to Paul's music shop in Somerset Street on a Saturday afternoon and all the latest songs would be displayed in the window of what was essentially quite a small terraced house. Inside, in the front room there was a kind of big table with a board stood up at the back and it was all covered with sheet music. Every surface. It doesn't matter what you wanted to play, Lottie Paul would shuffle out from whatever was through the mysterious doorway to the left of all the clutter and would always be able to find it somehow. For instance, Bryan Ferry brought out a version of These Foolish Things and she found it easily and we came back home with it. In the front room with my "classical piano training" I puzzled it out - it was our second piano by now, a little better than the first one but a full semitone flat. My rendition sounded OK . . . but there was something lacking. Meanwhile, Dylan with his guitar was singing a great version of it. "What are you doing, Dylan? You can't even read music but you can sing the song!" "I'm just playing the guitar chords. See these letters above the music? C . . . F . . . em - that means C major, F major, E minor and so on." It's a big step forward on the piano when you can construct the chords at the keyboard from those letters. Back to Umbrella by Rihanna. Apparently, it took four people to write that, yet it can all be played just on the white notes of the piano with three note chords in the left hand. Essentially, you play the letter name of the chord, call it number one and add three and five up from it. If it doesn't sound quite right, you mess around with the middle note, number three. Emergency sorted! Meanwhile Rihanna is probably saying, "I wish somebody would write me another Umbrella." That's one great thing about music: it's so simple but it can earn you millions of pounds - but only if you get it right.

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