Algorithmic Blues

Music algorithms are a funny thing. Ostensibly, they exist to help us discover new music that’s suited to our tastes. The problem with the idea is that the algorithms curate based on tastes that you already have, using songs that already exist within defined parameters as a starting point to steer you towards other music that fits the mould of those parameters. The problem with this is clear: while you can discover a lot of new music in this way, it will probably exist inside your comfort zone. In light of this, a lot of people are looking for anti-algorithmic ways of finding new music.

I read a great article by Pitchfork about one of the ways you can break out of the algorithm trap: listen to online radio. Online radio is usually run by passionate musicians and music fans who plumb the depths of the record store to find rare, almost unheard of gems to play for you. They are often volunteers, so there’s no financial incentive for them to play a particular piece; online radio is a work of love, and it shows. I’ve discovered so much music from online radio, and sometimes, I’ll hear a piece that I recognize from a song that samples it. One of the most exciting elements of music is the recontextualization of old sounds, unravelling the mythos of the tracks you listen to. Hearing a melody that calls back to an old song I know, or a lyric that references another track; it appeals to the collector in me, and your collection can’t be complete if you don’t do a little digging.

This anti-algorithm, always-be-curious attitude will help you play better, too. One of the biggest mistakes new musicians make is trying to make their piece sound exactly like another player; it’s good to remember that everything you play is an interpretation, and it’s the variation between your style and another musician’s that will make your interpretation special, unique. You want to play the “right” notes, of course, at the right time, but the feel of it can be different. You might be using a piano that’s totally different from the piano a piece was recorded with. The weight of your keys, the acoustics of your room, your own personal style; all of these will affect the piece.

Getting out of boxed-in modes of thinking is something we must aspire to as musicians. Not just as musicians, either; as human beings, it is our duty to get out of our comfort zone to try and establish new ways of understanding things – and each other. By listening to new music, exposing yourself to new ideas, and coming up with fresh ways of interpreting a piece, you’re a part of a longstanding tradition of breaking the mould through art. You are the anti-algorithm. Algorithms are computerized, digital, cold; you are flesh and blood, human, and the works you make can be made by no one else. When you want to freshen up on the technical elements of your playing, Winnipeg piano lessons are available; we’ll help you discover what you can bring to the world.

A Brief History of the Piano

There’s a lot that goes into understanding a piece of music. First, you listen to it; you let the melody take you away, you move your feet to the beat. Deeper yet, your second and third listens; you begin to notice subtle nuances, flourishes that had passed you by on the first listen. This continues each listen; some pieces you can listen to hundreds of times and continue to unlock secrets, it’s meaning changing as you age. You can learn even more about a piece by learning the instruments that make the music; you can then appreciate how much effort and practice went into perfecting the technique the musician has used. Another layer of depth is found when you learn about the history of music; where the piece finds itself in the Grand Canon of Music, and the story behind the instruments that made it. So it is with the piano.

Now ubiquitous, the piano was revolutionary even when it was made. There was a problem with other stringed instruments that could be hammered; it was difficult to create a system where the hammer would pull off of the strings, and when it remained on the strings, they were muted. Bartolomeo Cristofori, the inventor of the piano, solved this problem. The instrument he created was originally called the pianoforte, because it could play soft (piano) and loud (forte). The dynamic sonics such an instrument allows are what keep it in use today; musical pieces that could never have been composed otherwise can be played on the piano, with its incredible range of notes and volumes.

What makes a piano a piano isn’t exactly clear, as the instrument itself has changed several times over the years. At one time, the pedals were at knee height, instead of being manipulated by the player’s feet; why they thought this was a good idea may be lost to time. The way pianos are built has changed as well; different materials for the body and keys, different string thicknesses and more have been adapted. At one time, pianos were incredibly breakable, and a player playing forcefully would destroy their instrument; they have seen begun to be reinforced.

Now, there are a plethora of different instruments that might be called a piano. Take a keyboard, for example; you can have one with weighted keys and pedals that feels almost exactly like a piano, except the instrument is electronic; no strings and hammers. Is that a piano? Look at a device like the Seaboard, a “piano” sensitive to all kinds of different touches; is that a piano? It’s somewhat difficult to say, because instruments evolve over time; the piano today looks quite different than the one from the early 1700s.

While instruments may evolve, the benefits of learning one for students young and old have remained. Playing music is good for your body and mind. Winnipeg piano lessons are available, and what’s better, you can have them in the comfort of your own home; that’s a benefit that will stand the test of time.

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