We were gone for about ten days, arriving home yesterday. It was a great trip, long enough to get my head out of the space of my day to day, which is what vacations are really about. I didn't bring my horn, didn't want to worry about it on the trip, but we did bring some instruments (keyboard, a drum) and occasionally goofed around with music. I also took the opportunity to start trying to learn some harmony, something my formal music education seems to have left out entirely. Long ago I tried reading Walter Piston's Harmony text, but I kinda skimmed over the exercises and getting the ear training into my head, so naturally I didn't get too far. I'm hoping this time will be different. Another book I have suggests that harmony ought to be learned slowly, giving as much time as required to internalize and make functionally useful any new concept. So that's how I'll approach it: slowly, and integrated with my goals for using the harmony. This means I have to do ear training.
There are a few ear training apps on my ipod I've spent some time with, trying to learn interval recognition. I have gotten better: it does improve with practice. But it doesn't seem like it's gotten better at the rate that I would have expected, given the time and effort I've put in. Some of these apps I've been playing with for more than a year now. And this is all chapter 1 material, the kind of thing a music student would be expected to internalize, I'm guessing, within weeks. I still make mistakes, all over the place. I recently identified one factor that may be contributing. My wife was playing random arpeggios for me to identify as major or minor, the kind of thing which would appear on a Grade 1 exam. I was terrible. I felt like I was guessing, and indeed, she told me that I was right only about 50%. However, she did note that whenever the root was a black note, I'd called it minor, and a white note, I'd called it major. It looks like I probably have some tendency, however undeveloped, towards perfect pitch. Our son has perfect pitch, so if there's a genetic component, maybe I have some of it. Some semblance of perfect pitch is pretty common -- members of the general public, if asked to sing or hum a tune from the radio, are usually quite close to the key -- but for me maybe it's interfering with trying to get the intervals identified. And it's not so developed that I can just name the pitches, and figure out the interval by subtraction, the way my son can. A little frustrating, and I wonder if the effort will bring a reward.
Now that I'm home again, I can play. It's always odd, playing after even a couple of days off. I have no major projects right now, mostly just a few vague plans to do duets. I did find one pleasant surprise on my stand: the sheet music for Techno Music for Bassoon and Electronica, a piece by Alex Kotch which he kindly sent me. I blogged about discovering the piece earlier, but I'd forgotten about getting the music. I spent a few minutes with the part, playing long tones on its Bb minor arpeggios. Later, I goofed around with my son, him on piano and me on bassoon, mostly in a Bb minor pentatonic groove. That was a lot of fun. And that's the point, really: knowing enough, and being good enough, to play with people I care about.