I play piano. I love playing piano. If you've read here before you probably know this, but I'll sum up my experience anyway. I took one lesson in my life, and found that the teacher and I didn't get along. But I didn't want that to stop me from playing. Fortunately, I have a fantastic ear for music and notes, and I could always figure out the melody of any song I wanted just by fooling around until something sounded right. But I wanted to learn notes, I wanted to enjoy the piano to its full potential, and most of all I wanted to play songs that I liked and that I felt moved by. So I printed out a little piano sheet that looks something like this:
Yep, that's right. That's my deep, dark, piano-playing secret. I printed out an image like that, and set it up on my piano next to my sheet music. I used this to slowly, deliberately decipher every song I was curious about, and then commit it to memory. Several years later, I've gotten better (and worse, as the frequency that I play surges and wanes) and can now for the most part read sheet music, but I always keep the page for reference to make certain that I'm reading it right.
Like I said, I memorize my songs. Once I decipher them, like I outlined above, I'm then able to toss out the sheet music, and play. But how do I remember them? I amaze myself constantly to find I can play immensely long and complicated songs straight from my head. What I've found is a lot of it is muscle memory, for one; I know the feeling of my fingers on the blacks, between the blacks, crawling over one another, et cetera. I know the flow and the pacing of the song.
But sometimes that isn't enough either, so how do I remember the notes? What if I forget the flow and draw a blank and can't think of what comes next?
I find stories in the notes I play for every song. I discovered when I was little that I did this unintentionally when I learned songs, and I still do it now. I won't notice it until I'm finished and playing through, and I need to remember what comes next, and it comes to me as something like "Oh, this is when D gets pissed off and goes sharp, and A and G make a cage around it so it can't cause any trouble."
I didn't realize that this was maybe unusual (or maybe it isn't?) until I was telling my mom about it and it was interesting to her. I thought everyone did it. I'm sure there are others who do, but either way, I now have the most fun figuring out what each song is telling me when I play it. I also learned that it helps me tune in with the song and feel the emotion behind it. I can't say whether this emotion is what the composer originally intended for it, but it's definitely what I'm pulling out of it.
I'll give an example of my most recent song, called Comptine d'un autre été: l'après midi. It's from Amelie. Here's a video for it:
I already got that this was a very emotional song from this video, but listening to the notes gives it even more of a tie to its core for me. I'll do my best to explain what I mean.
The left hand is constantly going through a steady loop of notes throughout the entire song. There are four patterns. It goes: E+E, B, G+E, B, E+E, B, G+E, B. The next is: D+D, B, G+D, B, D+D, B, G+D, B. As you may have noticed, the most frequently repeated note descended one step, from E to D; this gives it a lower sound. Next is: D+D, B, F-sharp+D, B, D+D, B, F-sharp+D, B. Again we've lowered another note from G to F-sharp. This gives it a little bit of a cryptic sound. Finally, we go to: D+D, A, F-sharp+D, A, D+D, A, F-sharp+D, A. We've taken one last step downward, the one note that stayed the same the entire time: the B, to A.
What does this mean? It's a steady, gentle, repeating pattern that's nice on the ears. What does this mean to me? These soft, happy notes of E, B and G, slowly and surely fall into the depression that is D, A, and F-sharp. And they do it over and over and over... And not all at once. I always watch from the B's perspective, and it's so sad to me how first it's the most influential note (E), and then, B's closest friend, G, before finally giving in herself.
The melody of this song is all about the higher notes attempting to reason with the lower ones. They try to convince them that life is worth living up at the top, but by the first time the loop resorts to the F-sharp, already the melody is also makes the turn to use an F-sharp.
As the song goes on, you hear the use of chords, and the pace quickens; this conveys an air of desperation. "Please please PLEASE don't go to the F-sharp again!" They always do, but I like to think that by the end of the song, the final chord is E-G-B, meaning we finally made it back to a place of happiness.
Anyway, if any of that made any sense, that is what goes on in my head without any sort of preconceived attempt made on my part. This flows from the notes to my mind back to my fingers again as I play through the song as if I were also part of it.
Once I know a song, there's also a certain amount of knowledge on my part that assures me that I can't mess it up, because the song isn't mine to mess up. The song is going, and all I can do is finish it. Fittingly, if and when I do mess up, you'll find that it's as if a spell was broken and as I look at my fingers, and can't even remember what I was doing before some wrong note was hit and I was thrown out of my story.
But we'll just assume that that happens less frequently than just playing and being a part of the magic of the song happens.
So that's how it works for me, from the most complicated song to the least. They all have a story; a reason for going the way they go. I can't wait to continue learning more songs and finding out about them. I don't know what will be next, but I know it'll have something in store for me.