15Feb

LOS ANGELES, CA: Music teacher, keyboardist and performer Bill Keis (http://billkeismusiclessons.com) has released a book entitled “The Fundamentals of Music.”

This book is presented in a simple, straightforward and concise manner along with practice routines that will result in real ability to read music, play songs, improvise and compose. The book answers such questions as:

* What is the difference between major and minor?
* What are the rules for naming notes in a scale?
* What are the three parts of music?
* What is the difference between a scale and a key?
* What is the secret of great improvisation and can it be learned?
* What are the two skills required to read music?
* What is a clef?
* What is a time signature?
* How important is rhythm?
* Is it true that some people have it and some don’t?
* How can one learn different styles of music quickly?

Author Bill Keis stated “If you want to ‘make music,’ there are definite things that need to be learned. There are many books on the subject of music. What makes this book different? It works. The data in this book applies to any musician at any level of expertise regardless of what instrument or style of music he or she plays. This is invaluable as a reference book for private lessons or as a textbook for classroom study.”

Mark Isham, Grammy and Emmy Award-winning, Academy Award-nominated Performer and Composer (Once Upon a Time, Crash, A River Runs Through It, Bobby, Rules of Engagement, and many more), stated “I enthusiastically endorse this book! It is a wonderful way to enter and explore the adventure that is music, each step expertly presented to ensure a pleasurable and productive experience for any reader!"

The book “The Fundamentals of Music” can be purchased from Amazon online for $9.99 here: https://www.amazon.com/Fundamentals-Music-Complete-Guide-learning/dp/1542371902/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1485904021&sr=8-5&keywords=bill+keis
Bill Keis is a pianist, keyboardist, composer, producer, musical director, and teacher.

He has performed and/or recorded with; Stanley Clarke, Chaka Khan, The Pointer Sisters, Mark Isham, Ronnie Spector, Michael Duff, Lilly Hayden, Billy Sheehan, MC Lyte, Alexander Markov, Chick Corea, Steve Oliver, Edgar Winter, David Campbell, Tony Newton, Donny Most, Judy Norton, Izzy Chait and many others.

One of Bill’s compositions was used in the 2015 blockbuster movie, “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” which grossed over $1.4 billion worldwide.

Bill was educated in music starting at age 5 by numerous private teachers, public school music instructors and at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

His main site is http://billkeis.com, and his site for music lessons is http://billkeismusiclessons.com. He can be reached at 818-246-6858.

I know many people don’t like year-end letters but I couldn’t resist.

2016 was a wild year for many reasons.  I am very happy to be working in the music biz.  This is what I love to do and I’m looking forward to 2017.

Last year I had fun playing gigs with 11 different bands/artists.

I enjoyed working in my studio as a player, engineer, producer with 9 different clients.  Additionally, I wrote numerous songs, TV/Film cues, arrangements, charts and transcriptions.

A CD I worked on was released in 2016 – Chico 45th Anniversary ~ CHICO [latin, variety] (Bill Keis, mastering engineer, keyboards).  I’m looking forward to three more CDs being released in 2017.

As a teacher, my niche is teaching adults.  I cover many things including accompaniment skills, composing and how to play in a band.

Super cool news:  a student wrote and recorded a song for his wife for their anniversary, several students played casuals and sat in at nightclubs, one student (who was failing) got an “A” in her College music class.  In 2016 I reached a milestone…all 10 of my music books are now available on Amazon Kindle!

Wishing you a happy, healthy, prosperous 2017.  Let’s get together and make some noise!

Bill

(818) 246-6858

http://www.BillKeis.com/
http://www.BillKeisMusicLessons.com/

bill book use2-2

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/smile/id1011270368

A jazz solo piano performance that features both originals and familiar standards. This CD was inspired by his wife, a breast cancer survivor. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the NBCF (National Breast Cancer Foundation)

Yesterday I recorded piano tracks for a vocalist to sing the Alicia Keyes arrangement of “Good Morning Heartache”.  In the past I’d get a call and go to a studio, meet the vocalist, etc.

Nowadays, I get a call and record the track in my home studio then dropbox it to the studio that the vocalist is going to record in.  So, I never get to meet the vocalist or the engineer.  Pros: no drive time, save $ on gas. Cons: no face-to-face interaction.

Not sure which I like better.  What do you think?

Musical Director Hat

After years of being the keyboardist/musical director for many different artists, I’ve developed a job description.  Below is a brief summary.

Overall my job is to help create a professional, viable product both for live performances and recorded music that will be well thought of and be a high standard, as close to other successful performers as possible, within a reasonable budget.  Also, to help make things run smoothly so we all can make music and have fun!

My duties are: 

  • help choose songs and/or co-write new ones
  • write arrangements/charts
  • rehearse with the artist
  • write the set list
  • choose personnel in band who are great musicians and nice guys
  • hire & fire musicians
  • give gig details to the musicians
  • rehearse the band
  • determine appropriate band pay and inform the artist
  • play the gigs and direct the band during the gigs
  • find soundman & roadies as needed
  • deal with the technical details of sound equipment
  • create stage plot and input list, give to sound crew in advance
  • create a band of happy musicians by granting them beingness to do their thing, so they won’t have any unexpressed resentment
  • police the lines within the band to keep the band morale high
  • handle communication between the artist and the band
  • give & receive info with the artist management re: schedules, band bios, etc
  • in general flow power to the artist
  • produce the recordings
  • do any correction cycles with the band and/or the artist to correct outnesses in the live performances and recordings

 

Getting the Universal Audio Apollo Quad is a major upgrade for my studio.

From the moment it was first announced at the NAMM Show, January 19, 2012, I wanted one.  I love the UAD Plug-ins and the thought of being able to track with them was awesome.

Now that I have had it for a week and done several sessions with it, It certainly lives up to my expectations and beyond.  It works seamlessly with my UAD-2 DUO card.  Now I have 3x the DSP!

Tracking with the Plug-ins is like having a room full of vintage hardware.

The playback quality is far superior to my previous interface.  That was an unexpected bonus.

To say I’m a satisfied customer would be an understatement!


Piano technique refers to how one plays the piano, or the physical motions of piano playing. There are numerous theories and approaches to this, and even players taught in the same method end up with their own unique style.

The following data is a summary of technique basics that I have learned in more than 40 years of studying, playing and teaching piano.

Position

The following is a description of what could be called “optimum playing position”. Sometimes this is not possible, for example if you are playing multiple keyboards. I usually try to get as close to this as I can. Much of this can be applied if you are standing up playing a keyboard as well.

When playing the piano, it is better to sit on a piano bench rather than a chair or stool. Sit about halfway back.

The height of the keys should be even with your belly button. Some players find it more comfortable to have the height of the keys a little higher than their belly button. Having the keys lower is not recommended because it can lead to wrist pain, etc.

Move the bench to a place so that you’re not too close or too far away from the keys. If you are too close, your arms will be too bent. If you are too far, your arms will be too straight.

Your forearms should be parallel to the floor, wrist flat and fingers curved.

It is most common to sit a little to the left of the middle C. However, depending on what you’re playing, you might want to sit to the right. Basically, center yourself around what you are playing.

Approximately 90% of the time, you should have all your fingers touching the keys, even fingers that are not being used at a particular moment.

Mechanics of the Piano

It is helpful to know a little about how the piano works. I recommend looking inside the piano while you play some notes. Notice what happens when you push down a key, when you push down each pedal, etc.

Also, see what happens when you try to play a note when its key is already half down. (Usually it won’t make any sound)

The main thing to realize is that the piano keyboard is velocity sensitive. This means that the faster you depress a key, the louder the note will be. This is true of most electric keyboards as well.

It is not how hard you push a key or how much pressure or weight you apply that increases the volume.

So, the correct way to play is to push down a key quickly if you want a loud note, slowly if you want a soft note.

When you hold a key (or several keys) down, it is best to do it lightly. Someone should be able to easily lift your hand off the keyboard. As soon as you play a note, you should relax! If you play too heavy, you will be wasting energy and will probably get tired more quickly.

Overall, you should be relaxed when playing the piano. You can play so much better when you are relaxed. There are times when you will want to tense up, but only for a moment.

Always release any tension quickly.

Part Two of this article will explain more details about piano/keyboard technique.

An interesting question which could be debated.  I won’t mention any names, but recently a Latin/Jazz/Funk band leader I played a couple gigs with told me he thought so.

That statement didn’t sit well with me and after playing 5 more gigs with 3 different bands, teaching several private lessons and mixing a piano/vocal demo for a client, I got to thinking more about this.

I looked up the idiom ‘A DIME A DOZEN’ and found several similar definitions: “something so common that its value is little or nothing”, “easy to come by, next to worthless”, “cheap, easily replaced, not valuable”.

I guess some people might think that there are so many musicians around that it is easy to replace them.  If that is true, then perhaps carpenters, doctors, firemen, etc are also a dime a dozen?

What I thought of is this: how much training, education and experience do musicians have?  How does that compare to other professions?

In my case, I started piano lessons when I was 5 years old.  I had 7 teachers over the next 25 years.  And I went to Berklee College of Music.  I had 2 teachers on cello and 2 on trombone over a 10 years period.  Throughout my schooldays I had several orchestra and band directors teach me as well.

I also have 35 years of on-the-job training which means playing gigs, rehearsals, recording sessions, etc.  A rough estimate of all this would be 50,000 hours. Additionally, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching over 30,000 private lessons to students from 2 to 80 years old.  I know many musicians who have similar backgrounds.

All this tends to make me think that musicians are not “something so common that its value is little or nothing”.  But there are other factors.  What about musicians that don’t have all that training and experience?

Friendship and professionalism play a big part and are, in my opinion, vital in a group of musicians.  Certainly if someone has these things, they would be valuable even if they lacked years of education.

All the best bands I’ve ever been in had these attributes.  I’ve observed that musicians play better when there is a good vibe in the band.  Often guys get called for gigs just because they have a good attitude.

I believe, as has been said many times before, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.  One musician could sound great and be well-received by a particular audience but a different audience wouldn’t dig them.  Does that mean anything regarding their value?

I often encourage my students by saying, “Keep in mind that there will always be someone better than you, but there are also musicians that are not as good as you.”

“There are millions and millions of people who can’t play at all and who look up to anyone who can. You are important and so is your music.”

So, you decide: Are musicians a dime a dozen?

 

27May

The Blues

Blues in an extremely important style of music because it has influenced nearly all music since its beginning, circa 1890 A.D. Certainly this rich heritage deserves much study.

This article is by no means meant to cover even a fraction of the blues. The purpose here is simple. Define a few key elements of the blues that every 21st century musician should know.  This will get you started.

The Blues Chord Progression

The most basic version of Blues has a very simple chord progression that consists of only three chords: the I, IV and V chords of whatever key the song is in. These chords follow a specific sequence over 12 bars.

I  IV  I  I

IV  IV  I  I

V  IV  I  I  (or V when repeating)

Since countless songs have been written to this chord progression it is something that really should be memorized.

Additionally, most musicians know this progression and you probably wouldn’t be taken seriously if you don’t know it.

Improvisation

Although the blues is rather simple compared to many styles that followed it, playing blues is no easy task for a beginner. Even someone well-trained in Classical music might find playing the blues quite challenging.

The reason for this is that blues music has lots of improvisation. If that is new to you, now is the time to practice and get it down.

There are 3 Blues Scales.  They are:

Major Blues Scale 1 2 –3 3 5 6 8

example:  C  D  E flat  E  G  A  C

Minor Blues Scale 1–3 4 +4 (–5 )5 –7 8

example:  C  E flat  F  G flat G  B flat  C

Jazz Blues Scale    1 2 –3 3 4 +4 (–5) 5 6 –7 8

example:  C D E flat E F G flat G A B flat C

If you haven’t already done this, practice improvising in 4/4 with triplet feel up to at least 80 BPM in a few different keys.

Pick a key and then practice the 12 bar blues progression with a metronome until you can easily play it several times without losing the beat.

Then, begin to practice improvising over the blues progression using the data below.

Practice #1 until you’ve got it, then go on to #2, etc.

  1. Major Blues Scale of the key for all chords (in major blues)
  2. Minor Blues Scale of the key for all chords (in minor blues)
  3. Minor Blues Scale of the key for all chords (in major blues)
  4. Blues scale of the chord you are on
  5. Jazz Blues Scale of the key for all chords (in major blues)

Summary

Have fun and do lots of improvisation and soon you’ll find you are well on you way to playing the blues.

 

The metronome is a valuable tool for learning and playing music and should be part of every musician’s equipment.

Metronomes are useful for helping to develop good time,  If one has “good time” it means they have the ability to create a steady, even tempo, to play “in the pocket” to “groove”.  This is arguably the most important skill a musician can possess.

It is a good idea to separate the various parts of music (melody, harmony, rhythm) and practice them to a good level before you combine them. So, working on your rhythmic skills without playing your instrument is highly recommended.

The most important thing to know is you should play with the metronome, not follow it.  One way to develop that skill is to clap beats precisely in time with the metronome.  If you are accurate (clapping at the same speed as the metronome) the sound of the metronome disappears!  This will “tell” you if you’re right on it or not.

This phenomenon doesn’t occur when you are playing a note your instrument unless you play with a percussive sound e.g. drums, or keyboard set to a drum sound, also muted electric guitar and bass will work.

So, part of your daily practice routine should include this simple yet challenging drill; clap beats along with your metronome until you achieve a stable ability to keep time. That is the most fundamental rhythmic skill.

This procedure works best if you practice medium speeds before tackling faster and slower tempos.  Make sure your metronome has a clicking sound rather than a beep. If you clap to a beeping or chirping sound, it will be difficult to make the sound disappear. And the absence of the metronome sound is an important indicator of your accuracy.

Tempo

In addition to being a learning tool, metronomes are useful for determining the correct tempo for a song. The numbers on metronomes, such as 126, represent how many beats per minute. If you set it at 60, the tempo is equal to one beat per second. What do you think 120 would be? You’re right; it is two beats per second.

In the past, before the invention of the metronome, numerous terms were used to describe different tempos: Largo, Andante, Allegro, and Presto are four such examples. You will find these words written on your metronome. They indicate various ranges of speed. For example, Largo is from 40 to 60 BPM (beats per minute). Andante is from 76 to 108 BPM, Allegro is from 120 to 168, Presto is from 168 to 200 BPM.

As you can see, there is quite a large span or wide difference of speed for each term. The old system is workable; it’s just not as precise as the modern system which uses BPM. If the stated tempo of a particular song is 120 BPM, you can set your metronome to 120 and know exactly how fast it should be played.

Additionally, BPM numbers are helpful if you want to figure out how long a song is without having to play the whole song. You can simply add up the total number of beats in the song and then divide that number by the metronome marking (the number of BPM) and you will have the length of time for the song.

Quartz Metronome

Many modern day metronomes are quartz metronomes. Some people don’t understand what quartz means so I will briefly define it. Quartz is a crystalline mineral found in rocks of all types, usually colorless and transparent.

Similar to a fine watch or clock, a quartz metronome’s time keeping mechanism is controlled by a quartz crystal that vibrates at a fixed rate. This tiny crystal has been cut into the shape of a tuning fork (a small, metal object with a thin handle and two prongs that vibrate at a specific rate when struck thus giving a certain pitch which is used as a reference pitch when tuning a piano or other instrument).

The quartz crystal in a metronome is set into motion by the electric current from a battery. This technology provides an extremely accurate pulse.  Wind up type metronomes do not keep a steady time.

More than a Click

Some metronomes just give you a click, which is fine. Other more elaborate models will also indicate the first beat of the measure by the use of a different sound. The subdivisions of the beat can also be indicated.

So, you can have three things going simultaneously. You could have the first beat of the measure, which is called a downbeat, all of the main beats of the bar, and the sub-beats.

The Seiko metronome is a really good brand. The Doctor Beat, which is made by Boss, a subsidiary of Roland, also has all the stuff on it.  The Frozen Ape Tempo app on the iPhone is an excellent metronome.

Used correctly, metronomes are invaluable.  Try it, you’ll be glad you did.