Many musicians have egos that are way too big, and I constantly struggle with pride myself. That being said, I have been blessed with the opportunity to be around some very good if not great musicians. They are a constant reminder of how little I know about the piano. If you can expose yourself to great musicians, do so. You will learn and stay a little more humble too.
I got up early this morning in Charlotte and drove back to Atlanta so I could spend some time in the recording studio with Tim Parton. Tim is best known as the pianist for Legacy Five, a well known Southern Gospel quartet. He is better known in music circles as an outstanding studio pianist–probably one of the best in this part of the country. When I have the opportunity to spend time with someone like that, I take advantage of it.
Tim and I are currently working on the same project. I am playing piano on some of the tracks and he is playing for the others. Today however, I did not record anything, but just watched Tim work.
So how good is a pianist like Tim Parton? You would have to watch him work to believe it. First of all, he never practices anything ahead of time. All he needs is a chart. Sometimes, he simply listens to a song and charts it as he listens. Charting refers to writing down the chords. Tim uses the Nashville number system, meaning a chart might look something like this:
1 25 1 6 2 5 1
1 25 1 6 2 5 1
Each number represents a chord. When there are multiple chords in a measure, they are written together and underlined. There is a lot more to it, but there is too much to go into here. Tim can build a chart of all the chords in a song by listening to it once or by just playing it a bit.
Once the chart is done, he sits down at the piano with the producer and establishes an overall feel for the song. After a few minutes of practice, he is ready to record.
When I record, I usually need multiple passes and we end up splicing a few pieces together because I rarely play a song perfectly all the way through. On the other hand, Tim usually records a song with one pass, and by the way, he does not play them simple. His arrangements are very complex and they sound incredibly good.
Today, Tim recorded nine songs in under five hours. Remember, these are songs he did not even know he was going to be playing before he got there. In some cases, he had never heard them before.
And that is how a good musician works. When you can chart a song while listening to it just once, sit down and compose an arrangement on the spot, and record it perfectly in one pass, you will be good too. I don’t know about you, but I am a little humbled by that kind of ability.