I’ve played the piano since I was 4 years old, and I had 2 very good teachers who taught me how to sight read– a great skill to have in the musical world. However, I was never encouraged to play by ear or improvise, so these skills eluded me throughout my early musical education. When I got to college, seeking a degree in Music Education, I met with the Piano Skills professor hoping to ‘test’ out of 4 semesters of Class Piano. We were to prepare a piece to play, and then we were to play a chord progression from roman numerals (I had never even heard of this concept before the appointment). So I began and played the Khachaturian Toccata for Dr. Hilley. She said, “Wonderful! Now read this simple roman numeral progression in the key of D major.” and placed a piece of paper in front of me with the following upon it:
I IV V vi ii V7 I
She saw my distress, and said, “Oh honey, we have a lot of work to do.”
Needless to say, I had to take all 4 semesters of Class Piano. And thankfully, once the door to theory was opened to me, it was a very easy “A” all the way through. However, because I came to it so late, I’ve never felt comfortable playing by ear or improvising. That’s why I am in awe of musicians who can just grab a melody out of thin air, or MAKE ONE UP!
Here’s an example: Sophie-Véronique Cauchefer-Choplin on the great St. Suplice organ…just, you know, improvising a postlude after the Mass has ended.
Like I said, Pure Genius! And can you imagine this being your normal Sunday postlude music as you leave the church????
If you’d like to know more about Sophie:
If you’d like to know more about this magnificent organ:
Now, please excuse me. I feel inclined to go practice some chord progressions.