I have not really taken the time to learn someone else’s piano arrangement in many years. It is too much work. But I certainly remember how I used to learn arrangements.
One of the things that always used to frustrate me was that I would very often come to sections of the arrangement where I would play the right notes at the right times but it would still just not sound good. I bet you have been there too.
When that happens, you sort of lose faith in the arranger. You start wondering why he/she would write “mistakes” into an arrangement.
Of course, those are not mistakes at all. The reason they sound like mistakes is because you really don’t have the same vision for the music that the arranger does and you are limited in the information you have been given.
The reason you don’t have enough information is because all you have is the printed sheet music. That is hardly enough information. Stop and think for a moment about all the musical things that are NOT on a printed piece of music: tiny dynamics decisions, articulations, rhythmic variances, what notes are emphasized more than others within the same chord, and on and on. If everything involved in performing a piece was actually notated on the printed music, it would be completely unreadable. As a result, while those little things make or break an arrangement, you don’t get that information.
By far, the best way to really understand an arrangement is to listen to the arranger play it. That is why I always record myself playing an arrangement even if it is just in my living room. I am doing that somewhat for selfish reasons because I know for sure that many of you will shake your heads in frustration when playing some of my arrangements unless you hear how I do certain things. Those recordings are done to show you that there is a method to the madness–for example, to show that some of those very dissonant chords will work in the right context.
The arrangement I posted last week of “He Leadeth Me” is a little more weird than normal. There are things in it that just won’t work if you never get beyond the printed notes. So, after I recorded it last week, I recorded another 14 minute segment discussing it.
Here is that discussion. (If you don’t see a video below, click here.)
Also, if you missed it, here is the performance. (Click here if you don’t see a video below.)