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Piano Is My Forte
By Danny McBride - 01/20/2003 - 05:05 PM EST

By Danny McBride © 2003

This past month I have renewed my love of the piano- -I bought a Professor Longhair CD- -well, yes, but thatís not the real point. I bought a new piano too. The old one was dead sounding and had lost its appeal. It had served me well for many years, but it was time to move on.

And what I have rediscovered is that playing on a new instrument- -new to me, anyway- -has piqued my interest all over again about playing and writing songs on the piano. I should know better. For years I would switch guitars to change my mood, and depending upon which one I was plucking, out came a song in that particular mood.

Well the same thing is happening all over again. Of course, itís a lot easier to switch guitars than pianos, so this is going to be a permanent adjustment for some time to come. But the novelty of having a "new" instrument to write on rŽenergizes your whole being, and therefore your whole approach to playing and writing.

Now this is not something everyone can do at the drop of a hat, especially if youíre using that hat for a tip jar, but it is something to think about. Perhaps you and a friend could arrange a writing session together where you switch instruments for an hour or two. I donít mean necessarily writing together, although thatís fine, but getting the sound of another instrument into your head and hands. You might strike a new chord.

And if thatís not possible, play with some new tunings- -open tunings probably- -just to give you a new incentive to reinvent yourself- -actually this note is for guitar only- -leave the piano tuned as is! But for guitar, for example, tune the G string down to E and play many open chords with the usual fingering, or close to the usual fingering , to achieve a new sound. For E major, use just two fingers, second fret of the A and D strings as always, for a ringing E major "without a third" sound. Play the A chord the same way- -two fingers, one on the D and one on the B, or only one finger on the D for a sus 2 sound, but play B7 and D with the usual fingering. Okay- -you get the idea- -now youíre on your own.

New instruments mean new sounds and new sounds mean new tunes. Play around with these kinds of tunings when you want to inspire yourself. One of my favorite writers, Joni Mitchell, uses so many different tunings Iíve long since lost track. Good tunes are timeless. How about Counting Crows doing Joniís Big Yellow Taxi!

Sometimes just changing guitar strings to a thinner or thicker set than normal might give you a new thought, although maybe if the strings are too thick the only thing youíll get is more callouses.

Playing a new - -or new-to-you- -instrument will inspire you. Unless you only write lyrics. In that case, read as much as you can about anything and everything. A phrase, a word, an idea which never before occurred to you may spark a whole new song idea. You know the old saying- -For every word you write you should read a thousand.

Look- -there are no real rules. Just a bunch of suggestions that have worked before and can work again. Youíve got dozens of songs inside you. These ideas are meant to help you pry them out.

Work on this and get back to me. I have a few thousand words of reading to catch up on.


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