True ConfessionsMany of you have expressed curiousity about whether or not I actually play any of these rags live. The answer is :
"I can play only a few of them passably well."
Which is to say, not yet as well as I would like to play them, but getting close to how I believe they should sound.
Still, for only being back at the keyboard, and a digital one at that, for just a little over one year, after not having touched a piano (literally) at all for 20 years previously, I am finally beginning to feel that there is some hope.
These are some MIDI files of my actual live playing.
- Maple Leaf Rag [Joplin] PLAYED LIVE by me on 6/17/97
- Quality - A High Class Rag [Scott] PLAYED LIVE by me 6/17/97
- Sunflower Slow Drag [Joplin/Hayden] PLAYED LIVE by me 6/17/97
These pieces were played live, from memory (without sheet music), on my KORG C-505 digital piano, which serves as a MIDI controller keyboard hooked into my computer. The live performances were recorded into my Cakewalk-Pro sequencing software program.
I was mainly interested in critiquing my own playing in preparation for the upcoming NVRS meeting, where I may play one or two of these pieces live, in front of an audience.
In the spirit of "truth in advertising", I have to admit that some editing, although relatively minor, was performed on the files.
1. After playing-in the files straight from my digital piano, I used Cakewalk's "Fit-Improvisation" function to make everything line up on the measures. This does not actually change how the performance sounds (as opposed to using the "quantizing" function), but converts any unevenness in playing to a tempo variation from measure to measure in the MIDI file, rather than a note position offset.
I find this alignment to the measures necessary to allow me to compare my playing with the score, and to see what I am doing wrong (or right)
I did not use any metronome, or attempt to play along with a recording, when I played-in these pieces.
2. I did fix some of the worst "klunkers" where I hit the wrong note, or struck an extra dissonant note along with the intended note.
3. I fixed a few of the cases where I was just too far off in my timing to let it go. I left most things as they were, so you can imagine how bad the others were by comparison.
4. Since lots of sound cards don't respond to pedal commands, and this is essential for the live playing to sound at all normal, I lengthened some of the bass notes to at least make things sound somewhat OK if your sound card doesn't handle pedal commands properly. If your sound card processes pedal commands properly, then this will not make any difference at all in how the files sound on your system.
Using MIDI as a Learning ToolUsing MIDI recording, and a good sequencing program, to critically evaluate ones playing style can be very educational. While concentrating on playing at the keyboard, things sound very different than they do when you hear the playback later, and can listen more objectively.
The recorded MIDI file is brutally honest, and you can see the exact position, volume, and duration of each note. You can see where you played wrong or extra notes, and where notes are missing or weak. It also shows how "clean" the playing is by letting you examine how much position difference there is among notes intended to be struck simultaneously.
This has helped me identify several areas that need attention.
For the most part, my playing is still pretty choppy and uneven, as evidenced by the tempo changes from measure to measure following the "fit-improvisation" application. Also, I notice that I often simply leave out some of the notes in a chord, as you can see by comparing the live-played file to the sheet music. Additionally, I tend to play mostly in a rather staccato style, even though I was not consciously trying to do this.
My dynamics are completely screwed up, having played almost exclusively on a digital piano for the past year. On the few occasions where I have had access to a real acoustic piano, I find that I have no control over subtle dynamics or expression.
The other side of the coin is that examination of the live playing files helps me to achieve a more lifelike feel for my "moused-in" midi files. By seeing the characteristics of the MIDI recording for a phrase played live, I can often get additional clues as to how I should edit my MIDI files to achieve the effect I want. The two activities are nicely symbiotic.
I may do another set of live, real-time played files of these (or other) pieces in another 6 months or so to keep tabs of my playing recovery progress.
At least there does appear to be some progress.