Canadian Musician May/June 2017 - Page 26

KEYBOARDS Kayla Diamond is a recording artist based in Toronto. Her debut EP, Beautiful Chaos, will be out this summer via Cadence Music. By Kayla Diamond v I Sight-Reading Skills in the Music Industry t is incredible to see how many new-wave musicians are able to create music without reading notes. As a young piano player, I always felt in- ferior to other players who were better than me at sight-reading; furthermore, many music schools hold sight-reading skills to be the de- termining factor of acceptance, which made me reluctant to even consider applying. While it is critical to understand and to ap- preciate the “founding fathers” of composition and technique (Mozart, Bach etc.), is it truly impossible to be a respected musician with- out having the ability to read notes? Having been told that I would not be able to make it without excellent sight-reading skills, I never considered the possibility of having a music career and so I went to law school instead. Now that I have (thankfully) been discov- ered, I have spent the past year learning from others, writing, composing, and understanding that I am indeed capable of writing good and valid music with sub par sight-reading abilities. Perspective A key factor is perspective. Music is obviously different to everyone, but my focus has very much changed from trying to be the best player (for myself ) to how my audience re- ceives what I am playing. No matter how hard I try, there will always be someone better than I am, but I find that the most important piece of advice I can give to someone in my position would be to treat their instrument as a vessel that carries emotion and self-expression to the audience. Once the audience can relate to and enjoy what is presented to them, the goal of the song and performance has been accomplished, whether you read notes or not. Disclaimer: Please do not treat this article as though what I am saying is gospel truth, for I am merely contributing personal observa- tions and experiences. I’m hardly an expert, 26 • C A N A D I A N M U S I C I A N but I’ve spent time in two different worlds: the world of studying music, and the world of creating it. These past couple of years had me im- mersed in the music industry and working with some excellent musicians, both trained and untrained. When I first realized that there are professional musicians who do not sight- read, I was baffled, but also intrigued. I began to realize that there are so many different ways to compose without manually scoring. That’s not to discredit those who can do this, because I have the utmost respect (and some good-natured jealousy) for those who can; however, for those of us who have more trouble, there are some software programs that do this for you! Different tricks work for different people, but here are some really helpful tips that I have learned thus far as a songwriter and player: Hire someone to do it for you. Just kidding… Hacks The truth of the matter is that most songs stem from an idea, which usually does not involve the technicalities of keys, notes, charts, or scores from the get-go. Thanks to technol- ogy, keys can change any time with the press of a button, so establishing the key is not nec- essarily the primary stage of writing a song. The transition between music school mentality and industry mentality can be quite different once you get into the realm of writing pop music. If you have the least bit of knowledge about keys and octaves and can play some chords, then you have a pretty solid foundation and your ability to move around the keyboard will be much easier. To me, the backbone of a good record is finding the right chord progression because it sets the tone for the song. That being said, even if you are not confident with playing chords, nailing down the single-fingered bass notes will often do the trick. Many writers have different methods and processes but mine always starts with sitting at the piano and get- ting a killer progression down – sometimes just a bass line. It is usually no more than five chords and simple enough to allow the top line melody to shine. I often write with some popular worldwide DJs, and many of them have close to zero knowledge of music theory or sight-reading. Their method usually starts with just a bass note progression as well, and then with the beauty of software programs, they can track the progression and build on top of it to sound more full, be it with pads, synths, or whatever they may choose. This is usually the best “hack” if you don’t really play piano; you can easily build the progression with a keyboard or soft- ware to make the track. Another very important trick for writing the top line melody is something I refer to as “staying in the lines.” This means that if you have a decent ear, you’ll know (by trial and error) which notes do not belong in the key of your established progression. This works for both instrument and vocal. It takes a while at first, but once the key becomes muscle memory, you will be less inclined to hit notes outside of it. In sum, I do not believe that the ability to read notes determines your success as a musician. Growi \ ]\H\[] \ۘ[KXYHH\و^Z[]\X\[XXBYK]\[\ܝ[Y\[Z[]]KBX\\܈H^Y\][H܈B\[\]\[H\H[[X]]\܈۸&]][[ۙH[[H]\Z[[\B\\]Z\]\܈][\H[H[H\H\ܛY\HYXHو]\Xš\HYXHو]\X