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Things I've written about learning

The art of music theory

In a few days, I’ll hit my one-month mark on the piano. When I bought it and began playing, I made sure to keep an open mind about how I learn best; not following any particular method, but tailoring practices to my interests, speed, challenges, and desires.

One learning strategy that always works best for me is a top-down approach. With the piano, there’s great benefit in playing music from sheets (of which I’m capable), but I could tell something had been missing. This morning, as I woke early once again, this time at 03:20 a.m., I realized the missing part was an overview of which chords work in a particular key.

This morning over coffee at my favorite spot, I did some digging and found Piano-Music-Theory.com, which has a wonderful series on diatonic chords. If you’re not familiar, these are chords belonging to notes that make up a particular scale. Knowing the diatonic chords of each scale is going to benefit my flexibility on the piano, because I’ll be able to play songs in whichever key I need.

As I was drawing up a matrix of what I was learning, I remembered how special music theory really is. I love its intricacy and depth, and how it manages to capture one of life’s most extraordinary things: combinations of sounds that can tell a story.

Week 51: The piano

  • Happy Hanukkah and/or Christmas to those who celebrate!
  • Even though our house is (reluctantly) multi-religious, we forgot just about every tradition we were ever taught for this time of the year. On Hanukkah Eve, Anja said “where are the tea lights?”, but we had no luck finding them to produce a makeshift chanukiah. Probably for the best. I don’t mind that we didn’t put up a Christmas tree, but I did find myself missing our outrageous ornaments.
  • This week was all about the new piano I bought. I can’t stop thinking or talking about it.
  • All I’ll say is: this piano project is the first one I’m approaching through a neurodiverse lens, and it’s making everything so much smoother and funner.
  • Illegally, I’m mentioning something that happened in week 50. A. took me for my annual Fancy Birthday Dinner. For the first time since we began dating, I told her to leave it a surprise. I suppose it’s one of those benefits of having gone to in-patient eating disorder treatment: chill vibes about food surprises. If you ever have an appetite for exquisite 10-course Asian fusion dining, book a table at 101 Gowrie, where the atmosphere is as beautiful as the tableware, the bread is to cry over, and the umami is so intense that you’ll have trouble putting it into words.
  • We needed a two-nighter to finish watching Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. I’m very much at that point in my mid-thirties where finishing a feature film under a warm blanket on the sofa after 8 p.m. is a challenge. I love whodunits — the genre might be in my top three — but I was quite disappointed to learn that both A. and I were able to guess the ending within the first five minutes. Janelle Monáe and Kathryn Hahn looked great nonetheless.
  • All week, people kept asking me what I’d be doing for Christmas, and I’d cheerfully reply “Nothing! You?” every time. I feel liberated from the pressure to spend time with family or friends during the holidays, to eat more than I can carry, and to be and have fun. We certainly did have fun, just in a “really couldn’t be bothered” kind of way.
  • I made my first batch of heavenly mud, a rich, creamy chocolate dessert. It was heavenly.