It’s 3am. I’ve Been Playing Piano.
It’s 3am, which adds to my sleep problems. But the reason why I’m up so late (early?) is because I was playing piano.
In fact, this whole month, all I’ve been doing is playing piano.
I’m not even good. I just want to get good <i>enough</i> - more on that in a minute. After I arranged SkyFall, the following night I planned a 5 hour block for arranging… but then I looked at my piano and said “ok 2 more minutes on piano and then I’m arranging”.
But the arranging never happened.
As many of you know, when I was in college, I majored in jazz guitar. Then I got carpal tunnel from practicing 12 hours a day. So then I switched my major to music composition instead. But after my hand healed in 1.5 years I actually grew to be a much smarter person. I wasn’t just a better musician, I was actually more understanding of everything around me. My music was better, I was nicer, smarter, and more interested in my surroundings.
So I started playing saxophone because the ergonomics didn’t give me finger pain. After my hand healed, I played piano in my last 2 years of college so I could compose and “see” the music laid out better.
Then, after graduation and all the final exams were done, I pushed piano aside and just composed every day on my computer (I used to hand write all my scores, but since everything was digital now, it just made sense to do it on my computer). I was a binge composer, and I was unstoppable.
This was great for my music, but really bad for my musicianship. I always say that I’ll always be a student til I die. It’s not like you can just “turn off” the desire to learn - it’s inside of you.
So fast forward to 2013 and here I am incredibly upset. I could have been playing piano for 10 years at this point. I would be able to hear a melody in my head and write it down faster. I would be able to play songs by request at a friend’s house or at parties. Not that I care about being the center of attention, but there’s something cool about spontaneously making something and seeing people smile from it or collaborate with it.
So I’ve been playing catch up, and becoming comfortable with not being too hard on myself for being a “late bloomer” on piano - because this time I’m not giving up on it! Hell, I didn’t even start music until I was 16, so 28 at piano isn’t too bad. And I’ve never been discouraged by starting late - the only time when it’s too late to do something is when you’re dead.
Besides, it’s not a sprint. If it were then every 5 year old who started guitar would have crushed me by now. It’s a marathon, and the single reason why I’ve survived in this cutthroat world of music is because I wake up every day and stay in the race.
I know I can’t have everything. I can’t play piano for 8 hours, paint, tap dance, read books, play basketball, write music for 8 hours, collaborate with all the artists I want to, and study TV scores or sift through vinyl records at a local shop down the street every day. There’s just not enough time.
I also can’t be upset about the simple choices I’ve made like giving up piano years ago - because to change even 1 simple thing in the past changes all subsequent events thereafter. Even something as miniscule as if I brushed my teeth on March 12, 1996 for 32 seconds instead of 33 seconds - EVERYTHING CHANGES!!!! That extra second brushing my teeth maybe makes me stop at a red light while I’m driving, which then changes everything again. And so on and so on.
So all these crazy events led me to what I have: an awesome community. a weekly music library, cool friends, playing guitar, and a better understanding of the world around me.
So if it’s any wonder why I’ve been so quiet this month, the answer is simple: piano.
It’s the one thing I can’t believe I let go, so it’s been nostalgic and therapeutic for me to revisit it. It’s a wonderful instrument, and I would reccomend everybody to dabble in it - if only for a few weeks.
There’s nothing like working on your craft at 3am when the world is asleep and it’s just you and the earth. For me, that’s always been the best time to write music. And as I sit here smiling tonight, I’m glad to add ‘playing piano’ to that list now, too.
Anonymous asked: How do you arrange songs so quickly?? It takes me forever to arrange, and they don't sound nearly as great :(
I’ve been doing this since 2006. I actually quit ‘For Orchestra’ a few times over the years, only to return again and am finally getting traction in the past 12 months or so. So I’ve grown so much over the years, and a large part of that is in my efficiency.
The trick is to get better at it every week. It’s like working out - you won’t see the changes from day to day, but if you zoomed out and compared week 1 to week 20 then you’ll be amazed. I’m on week 300 - so that gives you an idea of how patient you have to be.
Anonymous asked: I must confess, I'm a choral singer. I can't help but hear your arrangements and feel a vital part is missing: the lyrics. That is probably the reason I prefer your arrangements of songs I don't know over those I do. Have you considered writing in a place for a singer in your work? ~Derek
One of the reasons I don’t have lyrics is because of the licensing - there are 2 parts to a song: the music and the lyrics. And most times they’re separate writers (and therefore publishers).
Some people want me to “sample” the original vocal track over my arrangements, which 1.) would sound horrible 2.) be illegal without the licenses.
Also, I would never be able to afford a vocalist/choir to sing over my pieces every week.
I’ve written tons of original SATB, and Orchestra & Choir pieces. Choral writing, when done well, is the most beautiful thing in the world. I just can’t master it for some reason. It’s incredibly difficult.
I’m just more passionate about writing for only orchestra - maybe that will change over time, but right now I just really gravitate towards it.
1.) I’m almost finished arranging Avicii ‘Levels’ for you all
2.) It’ll be hard rock and orchestra. Heads will be banged.
3.) I’m going to bed. Zzzzzz.