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I analyze each social context when I am the only one confused, which causes a lot of embarrassment, partly because I am now aware that I am the only one who doesn’t understand a situation that I should be able to understand by now.

What did that look mean? What did that wink mean?

People expect me to understand, or else they wouldn’t be including me in them.

It’s like a secret language where I intercepted a few signals. Like catching the Enigma Code in the Imitation Game. I’m only more aware that I don’t understand, and each time I think about it, I’m more dismayed. So maybe I have Asperger’s.

The possibility of having Asperger’s just means that I won’t be able to understand, even if I tried very very hard to pay attention and memorize how you’re supposed to act during certain situations.

I haven’t gone through a doctor yet. Asperger’s in women is misdiagnosed so often that I could cycle through doctors until I found one who would slap the label on me. I could very well have social anxiety instead.

I baked a blueberry loaf the other day and thought I would leave a slice outside my neighbour’s door, since he wasn’t “in the mood to hang out”. It’s the neighbour who was ignoring my texts because he was having family issues.

“He might get the wrong idea,” Pan says.


“A pretty girl wants to see you all the time and feed you. What are you supposed to think?”

“Oh,” I say. “It never occurred to me.”

How do I return his belongings without seeing him, then? I have his chair, air mattress, charging cables, and Costco card, which I’d borrowed in the last few months.

Apparently, my neighbour doesn’t enjoy my company all the time. He is a lot more quiet than I am, and once told me that he doesn’t like loud people.

So, I am trying to attend events with large groups of people, to find a close friend. I ran a marathon, for example.

During brunch after the marathon, I listen intently to the group conversation. The chatter asks me questions once in a while, but it’s a bit unsettling, really, trying to be normal in front of these new people.

I start to have a good time then catch myself. I’m loud and sarcastic when I’m having a good time, and maybe these people don’t like loud and sarcastic. So I try to think of something clever to say, but then I’m thinking so hard that I forget to have a good time anymore.

I start to doubt myself in every human interaction. Do my piano students even like me? Why does Jonas frown when he looks into the camera?

I usually have a toolbox for how I’m supposed to act in each situation, when to smile or say “tell me more.”

As a piano teacher, for example, if your student isn’t playing well after a long time, you cannot show anger nor frustration, because whatever you’re feeling, the student is probably feeling it more.

As a human trying to find a friend, you are given a million ways to mess up that interaction.

Which, I guess, is what makes it so interesting. If you mess up, it’s so much more worthwhile if you can become friends in the end. Kat and I hated each other when we met, 6 years ago.

“You are the same person whether you have Asperger’s or not,” Pan says. “It won’t change anything.”

I think he’s right, but it will help me understand why some things are so difficult.

In high school, I had an older piano teacher with chin-length curly hair and huge eyes and each time I finished playing, she would stare at me. I would stare back with wide eyes, studying the brown pupil orbs inside her eyeballs. I never knew why she was staring until she opened her mouth, and even then, I was often confused.

I never knew how I was supposed to act around her. Where do I stand when she’s in her library looking for music for me?

When we first started lessons, she often sang piano passages for me, the way she wanted them played. Her singing voice was clear, sharp, like an opera singer’s, but not quite so powerful.

“No one’s dying here, Grace. Don’t play it like that. It’s more like this,” she says. Then she sings the passage.

I get it. I sit on her piano bench, nodding.

“Maybe you think it’s gross that I’m so old and I sing,” she says. “But singing is a great way to learn what the melody should sound like.”

“Okay,” I say.

She’s sick. There’s something with her eyes.

The surgery is in a month or so, but I never knew how to ask what the illness is.

She’s staring at me, and I think I’m missing something, but I don’t know what it is. Am I supposed to sing now? She didn’t tell me to sing, so I’ll wait quietly.

“Let’s try this passage again,” she says, finally.

I put my fingers on the keyboard and it all made sense again.

A few weeks later, during our lesson, she says, “I know you think I’m too old to be singing, but this passage should sound like this.” She sings the passage I just played.

I nod. She’s right, I’m playing it wrong.

She stares at me, eyeballs huge, probably because I’m butchering Beethoven.

Later, probably years later, I realize that I was supposed to deny it when she said she was a gross singer. She remembered for weeks that I didn’t deny it. In fact, anytime someone says something degrading about themselves, you should deny it. I think I was watching a group of friends joke around and had that realization.

It gives a person validation that you don’t think poorly of them for having a negative trait or action. Like, if I said, “Oh, I suck at piano because I never practice,” someone in the room is supposed to say, “You’re already good without practicing.”

When we got closer to my performances, my teacher cracked a smile here and there when I played Lecuona with gusto.

Eventually, she had a disagreement with my mother and we parted ways. But I think about her once in a while. I like to think that if I was better at interpreting her actions, that we could’ve become friends, maybe. Her students sent her cards and flowers for her surgery recovery. If I was her friend, I could’ve known to do that.

But we never spoke or saw each other, after the lessons ended.

I tell Pan, “Last month, I was saying, ‘can you be my friend’ to people.”

“Don’t say that,” he says.

“Why not?”

“It makes you sound desperate.”

I think he’s right, but I also think there’s nothing wrong with being honest. Which might be the factor that separates people who are autistic with people who are not. But I could be wrong.

What I admire about my piano teacher was that she was honest. I knew exactly how my playing stacked up in her books. Even though I left my lessons in tears sometimes, I knew when my playing sucked.

I’d rather be genuine than socially correct. The way you communicate is a reflection of how you interpret the world. If you are not open to sharing blunt, simple truths with people around you, then you may find yourself stuck with a mask, that applies in your personal and musical life. Honesty is how we navigate our lives in difficult times, and each time I hear a blunt, funny, honest truth from someone new, I imagine that we could be friends, because that’s exactly what I’d want in a new friend.

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Not everyone understands how to play Hanon.

There are 60 exercises, but you are not meant to do them all at once. They are tools in your arsenal for each of the different areas you need to improve on.

Have you ever heard of the 80/20 rule? 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts, and this is true for a lot of things in life, especially piano technique.

If you only had 5 minutes for technique and you’ve laid the groundwork for other fundamentals (scales/arpeggios/etc) I’d recommend spending time on Hanon.

If you don’t have the Hanon book yet, click here to get it.

In the video below, I share tips for playing Hanon:
  • If you are stiff or tense, how to move your wrist
  • How to properly press your fingers down to each key
  • Where you’re wasting energy when playing piano
Are you playing Hanon wrong? | Tips for Hanon Piano Technique - YouTube

I get a lot of questions about Hanon, so I’ve included an FAQ below.

Hanon Piano Exercise Tips – FAQ

I learned this exercise yesterday and I’m playing it fast but I’m still not seeing results. What’s going on?

You are probably playing it too fast for your level of understanding of the exercise. Are each of your notes exactly even?

I’m having trouble playing evenly.

Place an accent on the first and middle beat of each bar, or whenever the beat is, when you play. Do you hear a steady beat coming from the accent? If not, slow down the exercise and add the beat in.

Does Hanon make your playing mechanical?

No, because exercises are meant to drill your fingers in one or few areas of piano technique. Look, if you’re an athlete and you warm up by waving your arms in circles, does that mean you always flap your arms when you’re playing sports?

Also, don’t forget to keep your arm and wrist loose as you play. If you are new to this, start by moving your wrist in a “U” motion up or down the keyboard. Watch the video above to see what I mean.

My fingers/arms/wrist hurts when I play.

Take a break. In fact, take a rest for a few days. If you suspect that you have an injury from a sport or music or other activity, please consult a healthcare professional.

My fingers are flat when I press the keys. What’s wrong?

Please watch the video above. Your fingers should be curved and hitting the very bottom of the key, and you should be lifting them as high as possible.

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Around this time of year, I get a lot of big thoughts. Cutting thoughts.

I’m having some of them right now.

A few days ago, I caught myself thinking about what I would do to spend even one more minute with my dad.

I caught myself thinking what-if, and those are dangerous what-ifs, so I’m not going to write them out. Those moments that I took for granted back home are so precious. Why didn’t I think to save his fuzzy voicemail clip?

It looks like I have it together, really. I decorate my home, I cook healthy food, I lounge around in the hot tub when I’m stressed. I even made a few friends in the city. I smile when I’m supposed to.

You wouldn’t have known.

That I was lonely, that I was dying inside, that nothing seemed to be working no matter how hard I tried. I dreaded going to sleep since I’d wake up in nightmares or worse, wake up in a dazed stupor fueled with caffeine.

I was alone, going home to a home that didn’t feel like home. With friends to call but none of them get me yet.

What if I’d stayed in Vancouver? What if?

Sometimes my music students tell me they regret that they didn’t start playing piano when they were younger.

Or they regret that they quit music when they were younger. It’s so hard to rewire your fingers to play the piano keys, after so long. Is it too late to play piano?

These words are easy to say, but cut so deep if you repeat them to yourself often enough.

I was hiding. I was convincing myself that I just had to get by, to suppress my feelings and just make money. Just survive.

Until I decided to be brave.

This is a story that I am living, and I get to write my own narrative. Just like you get to write yours.

I gave myself a break.

I am a big believer in pattern interrupts during piano practice, so why not apply them to my life? A pattern interrupt means taking a break from the task and changing your environment, for at least 30 minutes. This will help you process information, and you will come back refreshed.

Why not spend this time enjoying the life you’ve got? Instead of asking why your fingers can’t play a piece of music, why not ask yourself how you can work towards it? Perhaps you might try chunking or ghost playing.

Instead of asking why I don’t like Seattle, I started asking myself how I can fall in love with it.

So I went surfing. This is the single best thing I have done here. I also bought myself a dress so I’d stop feeling like a slug.

My narrative is not perfect, but it is changing.

Perhaps hearing my story will spark something in you.

Dear friend, you are worth it. I truly believe this.

Take some time today to do something for yourself. A pattern interrupt.

Your narrative is yours, and you are worth it.

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Amélie | Comptine d'un autre été: l'Après-midi - Yann Tiersen - Beautiful Piano Solo - YouTube

Pan quit university.

Well, he didn’t quit, exactly.

He dropped out of a specific minor program that is traditionally essential in computer sciences. He still finished all the other science courses.

Which is ironic, considering computer science is supposed to be cutting edge and you still need a 4 year degree to get hired.

I wasn’t on board with this at first.

“Don’t look at the success cases of people getting dream jobs without a proper degree,” I say. “They make it sound easier than it is.”

There’s a lot of math and algorithm work that is useful to have a background in, in a computer science job.

“My friends say it’s not necessary, anyways.”

“Then why did your friends finish their degrees?” I say. “Why didn’t they drop out and get hired?”

We are sitting on a bench overlooking a peaceful pond and I squint into the sunlight once in a while.

Pan has heard all of this before.

It’s hard to get your foot in the door when a recruiter has hundreds of resumes to sift through.

It’s better to get a proper degree the first time than coming back to school for a second round of night school. A lot of my successful friends have two degrees.

It’s lonely to not know what everyone else knows in the room.

“Show me someone who’s doing well in a software job and didn’t do a proper computing science degree,” I say.

“Me,” he says. “I’m the first in my program.”

Two summers ago, Pan landed an internship that people with computer science or engineering degrees compete for.

Internships are the golden standard for who’s who in the tech industry. You can’t get a stellar tech job without having experience under your belt by the time you graduate. If you have an internship with a world-class company like Google or Apple, then you’re guaranteed a pick of top jobs after grad.

Did you know that a $100k annual income is considered low-income in San Francisco? Low income means you spend more than 25% of your monthly paycheque on rent, which is mind boggling when so many people live in one-bedroom lofts in SF.

“I spent a year thinking about this,” Pan says. “I’ve heard you out for a year.”

“Whatever,” I say.

“Don’t whatever me. It’s not whatever.”

“Don’t worry about it. You can drop out if you like.”

“That’s just another way of saying whatever.” Pan says.

“It’s not.”

“Whatever.” Pan says.

“Don’t whatever me.” I say.

“I’ll work twice as hard without these dumb courses and useless profs,” Pan says.

Pan only attends lectures that he likes and his grades are still above average. He’s fast at catching onto math.

Oh, I forgot to mention why he wants to quit–his professors read off the slides and the lectures are boring and there’s bureaucracy that still isn’t sorted out after a year. Which is frustrating.

“There’s probably an online MIT course for anything I need to learn.”

I think about my music students who are pursuing private music lessons instead of formal school.

They have families or jobs or other big responsibilities that prevent them from going to fulltime music school, or they are retired and want a flexible lifestyle.

For them, the stakes are higher. Instead of coasting through a music conservatory, they have full responsibility of their music education, and there is no guaranteed outcome.

They have greater consequences for failing.

When you’re in university, you can skip classes because you’re guaranteed a great university brand name when you graduate.

Some of my top students are the ones who made a conscious choice to pursue private music lessons instead of formal music school.

In private music lessons, education won’t be handed to them in a platter–they get what they put in.

They didn’t let a school define their success, and they are doing really, really well.

Pan and I are working on a side project.

Side projects, or passion projects, are projects that demonstrate your interests and show that you have initiative outside of school. Hiring managers really like these in the tech field.

I try to distract Pan with a joke, but he says, “Settle down now.” Which is Pan-speak for I’m in a serious mood.

He’s working harder than I’ve ever seen him.

I thought about why I didn’t want him to quit the program, and I think it’s because I want him to succeed really badly and I want him to have an easier time getting his foot in the door.

When I get two resumes with everything equal (experience, number of degrees), I lean towards hiring the one with more specific education and/or better grades.

But, if you have a lot of extraordinary experience or side projects outside of school, then your resume won’t be equal to any other resume, will it? It’ll be in a class of its own.

I have seen those resumes before: brilliant people who brought themselves to be in a class of their own, outside of school.

So, I’ve changed my mind.

Self-made education can be more useful than formal education, because you will learn whatever you need, no useless content.

I’m an example of someone who was self-taught. Pan has already proven that he can beat the odds by a huge margin–MIT and Harvard kids compete for the kind of internship he got.

If you are considering learning music on your own with private teachers instead of music school:

Don’t let school become your crutch, and if you’re going to beat out everyone else who got a traditional education, be prepared to do more legwork to figure out how to get where you want.

Do you need to learn extra music theory? Perform in front of more crowds? Grow an instagram?

The skills you get outside of a classroom may be more valuable, even.

Consider the flip side–I know how hard it is to sit in a roomful of people speaking another language that they learned in their engineering degrees.

It’s one thing for me to do it myself, but another thing to recommend people I love to not enroll in school.

But now, I’m saying it. It’s okay to not enroll in school, if you think you can find better education elsewhere, with the right instructors.

Tailor your education to the way you were meant to learn.

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In piano, you’ll notice that a lot of the melodies are given to the right hand, or upper voices. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish the melody when a lot of notes are playing at the same time.

That’s where finger and hand independence come in. How do you make sure that your hands are able to do their own thing without copying the other hand? It’s tough.

How do you bring out a melody in one finger when all the other fingers are playing something completely different (i.e. the accompaniment)?

I want to show you a technique that I’ve been using for years. Check this out–it’s called ghost playing.

What is ghost playing?

This involves playing your piece of music the exact way you would play it, except, don’t press down on any key that’s not part of your melody. So, when you hear it, you’ll only hear the melody.

Ghost playing helps you do two things:

a) train your fingers to give your melody a different touch and dynamic so it literally sounds different from all the other notes, especially if it’s in your weaker fingers. The second movement of Pathetique is a great example of this, which I show in the video below.

You’ll often find mistakes when you first bring out the melody–either you’ll have missing or accented notes, or weird rhythms, so don’t be afraid to practice the melody for a while.

b) get your ears and brain used to hearing the melody by itself. That way, when there’s actually something wrong with the melody, you’ll pick it out right away. Sometimes, when we’re so deep into a piece of music, we forget to really listen to the melody itself.

Here’s a demo of ghost playing in the video. (I’m aware that the camera is out of focus sometimes; I’m trying to figure out how to fix this, fanks :)

Bringing out your melody: finger independence for piano technique - YouTube

Please feel free to share with a friend or let me know if you have other questions!

Check out this music practice technique called Chunking, to improve your playing faster.

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I spent a lot of time in the practice room refining my fast, repeated notes, and for whatever reason, I would only nail these passages sometimes.

One blurred note in the 16 fast repeated notes, gives my entire passage a failing grade.

Before my piano lesson, I would cross my fingers. After all, having the piano teacher stand beside me always made me play approximately 39.94% worse. Anyone with me here? The “I played better at home” excuse never worked for me.

I’m talking Toccatas, Valse Brilliants, anything with furiously repeating notes.

After some long practice sessions, I finally got to a respectable rate of success with my repeated notes. Here are some tips to improve your repeated notes. This video demonstrates the concepts, and the article below explains in detail!

Hand Independence: Playing Fast Repeated Notes on Piano - YouTube

Pretend your wrist is bouncing from a rubberband.

I know, I have a wrist obsession.

“You have muscular forearms,” Pan says. “Flex them.”

“I don’t know how to,” I say.

“Like this,” he says. He bends his wrist inwards and makes a fist, which reminds me of a crow. His face looks a bit like a crow at that point, too.

In case you missed it, Pan is my trainer, but we train less often now, as I’ve gotten into running again, and he spends a lot more time at the gym everyday. I don’t go to his gym, which, from his description, seems to be frequented by wannabe bodybuilders and instagram models.

It seems I have tense, muscular forearms and it affects my playing a lot. Any pianist who’s ever toiled away at a keyboard probably have tense wrists to some degree. My kid music students rarely had tense wrists.

My favourite way to counter this is to imagine my wrist being suspended by a rubber band.

You can try this. Grab a rubber band and put it around your wrist. Then, with one hand holding the top of the rubber band, let your other wrist drop. I demonstrate this in the video above.

See how it bounces back up a little? That’s the kind of looseness you’re aiming for, when you’re playing repeated notes. Your wrist is a loose hinge.

Now, imagine that your entire arm is this loose. Your arm should be allowed to bounce. You need to hold the energy in your fingers, not your wrists and arms.

Play around with fingering, even for the same piece of music.

Option A is the classic finger-switching technique, where every time you play the note, you’ll use a different finger.

I like to use 3-2-1-3-2-1 and so on, depending on how many notes I’m playing.

It lets you play a clean, distinct ring for each note and you’re sure to play each individual note, because you’re switching fingers. Sometimes, the key doesn’t return to its spot before you play the next note, so you’ll blur or miss that key.

Option B is the not-so-classic, non-switch technique, where every time you play the note, you’ll use the same one or two fingers on the same key. If it’s a black key, you may find it easier to play with your 2 and 3 together.

It lets you play a strong, loud version of the repeated notes. Unfortunately, you’re more likely to miss notes if you have a fast rhythm to follow. And this is often not “proper” technique, as your two fingers end up stabbing into the keys straight down, and may come off as harsh.

Neither of them are ideal on an upright piano, which is what I used to practice on for my performance exams.

On grand pianos, the hammers lay horizontally, so they can return to their position more quickly with the help of gravity and you’ll be able to play the next note quickly. On uprights, the hammers are vertical, so they are slower to return to position and you might find that your notes go missing more often.

Try different fingering and see which one works for you.

Pay attention to the shape of the melody.

You’re playing repeated notes, but you’re not supposed to be in jackhammer mode.

Consider what shape your melody is in; where is it louder and where is it softer? How do the repeated notes fit into this?

If it makes sense for the melody, increase or decrease the volume of your repeated notes as you play them.

When you vary the intensity of each repeated note, you’re less likely to miss the next one because it’s played a different way, and the listener is much more forgiving for inconsistencies than if you tried to play every note exactly the same way.

What happens when you miss a few notes? Cry.

I know how annoying missing notes are.

Cry about it afterwards, but make sure you finish your performance first.

Just kidding.

Don’t cry over missing notes.

I used to worry about how incompetent a few missed notes sounded. Man, I was worried it would ruin the entire piece. In a performance, the lights and cameras added a lot of pressure, and I’d feel like my entire body was pulsing with my heartbeat.

But once you play a note, you’re done with that note, so if you miss one, I repeat:

Don’t cry over missing notes.

If your entire piece is played decently, your reputation is still intact.

Take it easy, take a chill pill, Jill.

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In Seattle, I’ve settled into a cave with slate blue cabinets. I’ve gotten myself a mattress and a bed and a shelf.

Things have fallen into place bit by bit. I appreciate all the Artiden friends who reached out or sent a simple hello.

Here I am, sitting on a silver milk jug thinking about life in front of a plateful of cheese, in Seattle.

Every time I come to the Seattle Pike Market, I visit the handmade cheese factory. I love grilled cheese. I’ve always wanted to try crab pot, but by the time I finish my grilled cheese, I’m always too full. Pan the cheese fanatic drove down to visit me, and we were too busy eating cheese.

In music, I’ve always had a Yamaha acoustic piano, so in my mind, I was getting a Yamaha digital piano. It’s like my handmade grilled cheese. There’s no question.

I went to the music store to play most of the digital pianos they had while Pan looked like he was in pain. (Pan says I have to also say that he drove me there and back while I was asleep with my mouth wide open)

My first criteria was that I wanted the touch to feel like an acoustic. Good luck with that, Grace, most digitals don’t have real hammers inside.

The second was that I wanted it to have good sound quality and some kind of connectivity for recording.

That’s it. That’s all I asked for. If you want to see some of the research I’ve done about travel-sized digital pianos, take a look here.

I dallied at the music store and voted the Yamahas off the island right away. I am looking for THE ONE and as soon as I sat down, I knew it wasn’t a Yamaha.

I went back and forth playing a Casio and Roland, when a wannabe Beethoven started competing with me. I swear he turned up the volume on his digital piano, so I turned up mine too, since I couldn’t hear myself play.

In the end, I got a Roland FP30. It’s the closest to an acoustic in the store that’s in my budget.

Here is what I learned about shopping for pianos / starting your music studio:

  • know what you DON’T want. I used to try pianos and say “I don’t know what I think of this”.
  • watch videos where people sample different pianos and close your eyes – you’ll find that you’ll prefer one over the other, intuitively.
  • be ready to fall in love with an unexpected piano.
  • having a piano won’t motivate you to play piano. it’ll become a piece of furniture unless you’re already motivated to play. so it doesn’t matter how expensive or cheap your piano is, if you’re only looking for a new piano to “get motivated” to play more.

If you’d like to see my behind-the-scenes music / techniques and also be the first to see my music tips videos, I have a Patreon! It’s a way get perks in return for joining a membership each month. You can contribute as much or as little as you like.

While I’ve gotten back on my feet financially, this is a great way to support what I’m doing and I appreciate any amount that you’d like to contribute. I thought about starting this for a long time, and everyone has been beyond supportive.

I’ve gotten a lot of questions, so I’ll answer them below.

FAQ about joining on Patreon

I don’t want my name to be public. Can I donate anonymously?
Yes! Check out this link.

How can I donate?
Go to this link and click “Become a Patron.” Then, you can choose how much you want to donate each month, and you’ll be guided through the process. Here’s a tutorial on how to do this.

What forms of payment does it accept?
It accepts credit/debit card, Paypal, and more. Check out the full list here.

Please note: I don’t get access to your payment information, and you can cancel the membership at any time.

Here’s my Patreon page! Join here.

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My friend tells me that border security will punch a hole through my drivers license when I pass the border.

I am aghast when she tells me this, because my license is a piece of my identification as a canadian. It’s silly, it’s a piece of plastic, but it’s my identity.

It’s like I am leaving it behind, in Canada. Have you ever moved countries?

You know how some robots look almost human, but not quite human enough? This is Seattle. It’s still the west coast and it looks almost like Vancouver, with a mountain in the background (in the photo above), but I know better. I have no friends here.

The point of this is that I am now realizing the gravity of what I have to give up, to pursue my next job in the states.

Is it worth it? I don’t know yet.

I will be getting a new ID card, a new identity to define me. I might have to be less nice, in the USA.

I read that I will be considered a minority race and gender in Seattle.

I research the mountains where I can go skiing or mountain biking.

I have been browsing the American news sites for the past month.

This is a chance to start fresh, to make my mark, to not let my past define me. I will always be me inside, and no hole punches can take that away from me.

Goodbye for now, Canada.

I wrote the above when I was expecting to move. Now that I have finalized everything, I wanted to share a bit more about what happened.

I view 14 apartments in 2 days. I arrange the appointments so I tour the city in a circular shape and leave 15 mins between each one.

However, I drive into Seattle by accident and wait in 45 mins traffic on a highway to drive back to Bellevue (a small city to the north).

I put in so much work to optimize my route and did not account for human error. But, Bellevue is such a small town that I complete all the Bellevue viewings in one day, so I only had 4 viewings the next day.

There is nothing in Bellevue. There’s no nature, no interesting restaurants, nothing but highway and houses.

I end the day satisfied with myself, and disappointed in the plain city.

The first American cheque I ever write is to pay a parking ticket. The streets are arranged in monstrous shapes and at some point I’m driving towards another car head-on.

That’s not why I get the ticket, though. There are these 5 signs on a pole and I skim through them while I’m rushing to the SSN office and one of them says I have to be a food service vehicle to park there. I’D ALSO PAID FOR A LEGITIMATE STREET PARKING TICKET. 

I’m a nobody in the USA without an SSN but apparently I can still pay money.

I pick a cave in a quiet city with blue cabinets. Navy blue is one of my favourite colours. There is a hot tub and the lobby is still under construction and smells like chemicals.

I’m excited about the apartment. I already know where I’m going to put a piano when I get one (to the left of the window).

“You can have my bike,” Kat says. “I never use it.”

“We were thinking you could own plants!” Marinah says.

“You guys could help me decorate,” I say.

“You could go hiking since you’re so close to the trails,” Marinah says.

The excitement is contagious. I had a really rough few days looking for housing, and there were so many hoops to jump through.

A lot of services are more expensive or not available to me since I don’t have an SSN yet.

That’s actually a huge deal since the Canadian to US dollar conversion rate isn’t the best, and I’m racking up a lot of extra fees on my Canadian credit card. 

I look at my hands that are bleeding from moving my boxes: I only budgeted for one year of travel and then the visa delayed for almost 5 months, and now I’ve racked up those charges.

I don’t always know how to ask for help. I am scared to ask.

But this is me asking for help. 

I started a Patreon.

I’m running out of funding and I haven’t been able to play piano for the past few weeks… since I don’t have one yet.

A Patreon is where you can donate as much or as little money to me each month so I can keep playing and teaching piano.

I will put some exclusive and more personal content on the Patreon. The updates will have more behind-the-scenes. I am also going to play more piano for you once I get my digital piano, and you’ll see more stuff I’m working on.

I would be grateful if you decide to donate any amount of money. This is not required at all and I would still be grateful if you stick around.

The main blog will always be free, since I believe in an open, inclusive music community, so there’s no pressure to donate.

So here is the Patreon link.

I’m in a tough place but I’ll get through this, and I’d be grateful for your help.

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We don’t talk about learning music in new ways very often, but rote / learning online has gotten popular in the past year. Technology has improved enough to let people learn online, and online learners can become fairly skilled!

Today, we have an interview with my new friend Sydney from Smart Game Piano, who’s teaching videogame music online, by rote!

From easy pop songs to advanced videogame music, it’s quite simple to start picking up the basics of piano by playing by rote–I suspect that’s why a lot of teachers are using this in their teaching!

We talk about how to take advantage of teaching/learning by rote, using videogame music to improve mental health, and how she got started teaching online. I teach online as well, but by different means, and it was interesting to hear about her methods!

Take a look at my interview with Sydney below. I had a lot of fun!

New Ways to Learn Piano Online - Smart Game Piano Interview - YouTube

Check out Sydney’s website, Instagram, and Youtube! This is the Smart Game Piano Facebook group we were talking about in the interview.

Sydney and I played this mashup together.

How did you learn music? Have you ever taken online lessons?

P.S. If you’re new here, get my best music tips/stories by signing up for my FREE weekly email newsletter! I talk about practicing efficiently, learning faster, and other ways to succeed in piano.

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Wouldn’t it be fun to combine two unlikely pieces of catchy music, especially a modern piano piece with a classical piece?

What if we combined music from Overcooked (a videogame) with… Rachmaninoff?

My new friend Sydney joined me on this adventure. She runs Smart Game Piano where she teaches people how to play cool video game music by rote! Check out her website, Instagram, and Youtube!

This is our mashup! I explain the behind-the-scenes on how we mashed the pieces with a little improv in the article below…

Overcooked x Rachmaninoff Music Mashup | Piano Duet - YouTube

a. Pick proper music

I’ve started playing Rachmaninoff’s Prelude No 6 again, and it seems challenging to mash with Overcooked, so here we go!

Sydney had the Overcooked menu theme sheet music, and it turns out it’s in the same key as the Prelude, E flat major.

The major difference is the rhythm, as the Overcooked theme is more waltz-like with the jumpy left hand.

I wanted to improvise on this mashup, so I didn’t write anything down. Sydney and I played our own parts separately, but we would send our playing to each other so we could start off where the other person ended, to get a cohesive piece.

The Prelude has a lot of flowy left hand action and big chords in the right hand, whereas Overcooked has more block chords, like a waltz.

When I transition from Overcooked to Prelude, I keep the waltz-y left hand for a few bars (more on this later).

That’s a good rule of thumb for mashing: when you’re transitioning from one piece to the other, keep one element consistent from the old piece for a few bars, so it doesn’t sound like you completely switched to a new piece.

b. Find chords to transition!

Overcooked uses dissonant chords (we’re lucky with the music! As you may know, Rach enjoys funky chords) like iv flat 3, raising or lowering the thirds for the cute, quirky theme.

At first, I pivoted from one piece to the other using chords that are either almost identical or almost beside it, so I can invent a flat 3 chord and go back to the other piece.

Overcooked menu music, arr by Sydney Kjerstad / composed by Christian Marsac

For example, many of the Prelude No 6 passages have a C minor 7 chord, and one of the main Overcooked themes starts with a C minor chord, which I can easily add a 7th (B flat) to, without sounding too out of whack. I can use that chord as a transition, or pivot, between the pieces.

Prelude No 6 by Rachmaninoff – Cmin7 chord, which is vi7
Prelude No 6 by Rachmaninoff – Cmin7 chord, or the Cmin chord, whichever you prefer

I experimented with different patterns in the left hand because I didn’t want to suddenly start playing block chords in Overcooked.

My go-to is playing broken triads, but it feels like a drastic change from the chromatics.

Finally, I figured out that if I play triads with a lot of passing chromatic tones between the triad notes, it sounds more like Rachmaninoff. E.g. for an A flat major chord, I’d play A flat, B flat, B natural, C, D, E flat, E, and so on.

c. The fun part of song mashups

Once you understand the structure of the music…

The fun and challenging part is not picking pivot chords to move from one song to the other. It’s inventing your own pivot chords and segments so that the transitions are your own.

When I’m doing this, I don’t think about the music theory or chords in my head. I’m still learning this, but I’ll try my best to explain.

Intuitively, I know that if I’m ending with a G min chord and I want to get to that C min 7 chord, for example, I make up chords that move down towards that C:

  • starting with iii chord in E flat major (G minor),
  • which goes to ii (F minor),
  • and eventually to vi, which is the destination C minor chord.

A good starting point for improv is knowing which chords progressions typically sound pleasant. There are a bunch of common progressions like, ii-vii7-I, ii-V-I, I-V-VII, and if you play them obsessively enough, you’ll be able to roll them off without thinking.

I–VI–IV–V(6/4)–V(8–7)–I is the required ARCT technique cadence, and it’s actually really useful for improv.

c. Jamming your mashup!

Sydney starts by playing the Overcooked theme, then adding a few Prelude chords in the right hand. She sends this to me.

Then I play Overcooked where she left off, and transition to the Prelude using some of the pivot techniques above.

We go back and forth a few times.

“I don’t know how I’ll top that,” Sydney says.

Then, she pulls out a mystery surprise in the end.

d. Keep making mistakes

I can transition pretty smoothly between the two pieces of music now, and add my own transition sections.

When you’re starting to mash music on-the-fly (improvise), try to pick similar enough pieces of music, and know your cadences.

Improv takes practice. If you pretend there’s a screechy record player inside your piano and expect to hear wacky chords once in a while, you should be fine.

Alright, let me know… what did you think of our mashup? If you’re wondering how to learn music faster, check out my chunking technique.

P.S. Be sure to check out Sydney’s website, Instagram, and Youtube if you’re interested in video game music :)

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