In-Depth Night – Final Post!

People who know me know that I love to sing! However, I often struggled with performing alone, as I wasn’t used to accompanying myself. For this year’s In-Depth, I decided to study piano/ keyboarding, specifically to accompany voice. Although I already knew how to play piano to an extent, reading music off of leadsheets was a new experience for me. Below you can find 1 video and 2 recordings of me playing/ singing 3 pieces. I’ve also attached links to the original/ most relevant recording of the song I’m playing.

I’d like to apologize for the shaky recording/ voice quality, as I recorded these live, and I’m still getting used to playing and singing simultaneously. If you’d like to hear a better-produced version of my playing, scroll down and read about Jian’s project.

Isn’t She Lovely was released by Stevie Wonder in 1976, and has since become a classic song. Although the original recording is usually considered soul, many artists have released their own renditions of the song, and these renditions are often in the style of jazz, acoustic, or pop, making it a very versatile piece. Stevie Wonder’s recording of this song has a somewhat complex instrumental part, most notably the harmonica solo, but I’m replacing it with a piano instrumental. 





Fly Me to the Moon is a very well-known jazz standard, and many artists have released their own renditions over the years. Initially written by Bart Howard in 1954, the song gained popularity when Frank Sinatra released his version a decade later. This particular arrangement is similar to jazz singer/ pianist Diana Krall, who is known for her alto vocals, and considering what I’m used to playing and singing, this is a good piece to showcase my learning throughout this project. 





The Girl from Ipanema is a bossa-nova originally written by Antônio Carlos Jobim in 1962. After gaining popularity with the release of Astrud Gilberto’s recording, it’s been redone by many artists including Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Amy Winehouse. This song is a bossa-nova, which is a genre of music originated in Brazil. The genre is usually described as a combination of jazz and samba, and is typically built around a certain “bossa-nova rhythm”. The lyrics of this song are originally in Portuguese, but there are multiple English translations; I’m singing Astrud Gilberto’s lyrics. 





During this in-depth season, I was lucky enough to be a part of Jian’s project, where she started and ran a band! For this project, I, along with my fellow band members, wrote our own instrument parts from the chords given. This was a great way to further my experience! You can find us on Youtube, Soundcloud, and Instagram. Our original song was released at 6:30 today!



Thank you so much to my mentor Liz and everyone else who helped me with this project!

Feel free to comment on this post if you have any questions!

In-Depth #6

Since the last post, I’ve been spending my time practicing, refining, and perfecting. At this point, my project mostly consists of practicing the skills I’ve already gained instead of building new ones. At my last mentor meeting, we spent the majority of our time going over the pieces as my mentor gave me feedback on my playing/ interpretation. We also decided on the BPM for each song; my mentor pointed out that playing the pieces in varying speeds would give the audience a wider range of music. Varying rates of BPM can also help to differentiate the distinct styles of each of the 3 pieces. Fly Me to the Moon is a jazz standard, while Girl from Ipanema is a Brazilian bossa nova, and Isn’t She Lovely could be considered R&B or funk. I also asked my mentor for ideas for some of the chords for Girl from Ipanema, as I noticed myself struggling with it during my own practices. 

Although my original plan was to share progress “video diaries”, but given the circumstances, I’ve decided to change my presentation. My plan is to record myself playing/singing the songs and writing a short excerpt on what I learned. I will link these videos on my blog, which will allow views to watch the video(s) that interest them while allowing me to share the full extent of the pieces I worked on. Writing a short paragraph on my process will allow me to show parts of my learning that I couldn’t demonstrate through performance alone, and also explain certain parts of the music that people may not catch while casually listening.

Meanwhile, I’m still polishing my pieces, and I have a final mentor meeting tomorrow evening. I’m really looking forward to finally finishing up this project and presenting it!

In-Depth #5

At this point in my in-depth project, I’ve been spending a lot of time practicing and experimenting with different approaches to my music. I admit that I haven’t completed a quantifiable number of tasks, as the majority of my time at the moment is focused on practicing, perfecting, and experimenting. I also spent a fair amount of time reviewing my notes from my last mentorship session and thinking about how to apply my learning.

What kinds of learning opportunities does the mentor provide to expose you to new learning?

I remember when I was discussing song choices with my mentor, she said that many potential songs could have many different stylistic approaches. For example, Fly Me to the Moon is a very popular and standardized song and consequently, many artists have approached it differently. My mentor suggested that I did some research on different approaches to look at and draw inspiration from. Most notably, she suggested that I look at Diana Krall’s rendition of the song, as it’s in the same key as my chart. 

What kinds of learning opportunities exist to reinforce new learning?

From my own personal experience, I know that listening to others is one of the best ways to grow as a musician. As Igor Stravinsky supposedly said, “a good composer does not imitate; he steals”. This quote isn’t encouraging plagiarism, but instead suggests that imitations will never be a foundation for great work, as it will never be true to the artist. Artists should aim to draw influence from others and use their work as the groundwork for new ideas. This way, the music will be original with roots stemming from other sources. 

“A good composer does not imitate; he steals”

Igor Stravinsky

In the age of the internet, there is a virtually infinite collection of recordings and tapes of other musicians; it’s easier than ever to look for artists to draw influence from. I also find that there is an online community of people aiming to teach different stylistic approaches for music, and although they should be taken with a grain of salt, it’s always beneficial to hear the opinions and perspectives of others, especially with such a subjective art. 

What kinds of opportunities exist that might accelerate learning?

In terms of accelerating, I feel that my in-depth in particular needs to be built on practice and confidence, and it would be difficult to find a single strategy to “accelerate” my learning/ progress. The most beneficial strategy that comes to my mind is simple; practicing basic technique and theory can make a project like this go significantly smoother, since this allows me to build muscle memory in order to fall into certain positions with ease. 

When you get together what do you talk about?

When I am with my mentor, we spend most of our time talking about ways that I can extend further. Since our sessions are fairly short, we don’t have a lot of time to dwell on what I’ve already done. We are constantly looking at what I can do to improve and complexify my work, and I then take these ideas home with me for my own experimentation. 

What is going particularly well in your mentoring relationship right now?

Right now, we are at the stage where my mentor knows me well enough to support my weaknesses better, and I’m comfortable reaching out to her if I’m ever struggling with anything. I’m glad that we’ve reached this point in our relationship, as I know that I can easily get support from her whenever needed, which is both beneficial to my learning, and to my confidence, as I know that I can ask for her help whenever needed. 

What are you learning about one another?

I feel that in our mentoring relationship, we are learning about our strengths and weaknesses, and this knowledge allows us to further understand how we can help each other. My mentor knows what type of thing I struggle with, and she also knows how she can “tap into” my strengths in order to help me succeed. This way, I can use the strengths that I already have to help out my weaker areas, and my mentor is able to facilitate this effectively.  

I’m thrilled about my progress on my project at this point, and I’m looking forward to maintain my practicing, experimenting, and polishing in the coming weeks.

In-Depth #4

My in-depth has been progressing well over the past few weeks, and the extra time during spring break allowed me to practice and progress more than usual. I selected a final piece to work on: Girl from Ipanema, and I’m beginning to add more to my other two pieces. Although my last meeting was only yesterday, and I haven’t had much time to practice this new piece, I’ve attached a short recording of a simple adaptation of the first verse below.


My mentor agreed that it’s a good idea to practice simple ideas while I get used to the chart and then later add more complex parts.

As for the other pieces, we discussed some more complex rhythms that I could add. Since each of my pieces is in a different style, there are different things I can try with each of the pieces.

During the session, I realized that I struggle to put together the piano part and the vocal part. For the purpose of this project, my mentor and I decided to focus on adapting the piano parts specifically to accompany voice. When I practiced on my own time, I didn’t focus on adding the vocal part, since that isn’t the main part of my study, and I assumed that it would be simple to put together. However, during our last session, I realized that I struggle to play both parts simultaneously; in the future, I will be sure to practice the piano and the voice together.

What has been my most difficult mentoring challenge so far?  Why?

Recently, social distancing measures have made it difficult to have traditional meetings, so we’ve transitioned to video call meetings. Although this transition went pretty smoothly, there are certain aspects of our meetings that are difficult to conduct over a call. Most notably, we used to play along with each other to work on chording/ rhythm up to tempo, but the delay on video chats makes this difficult. At our last meeting, which was conducted via video chat, I was struggling to get some of the rhythms correct in one of the pieces, and it was difficult to fix this issue without being able to play together. To aid this, my mentor suggested some things I could try on my own time to help me. 

What is working well? Why?

I feel like the general style of learning and discussion we have in our sessions works well for me. I do my own practice at home, and during our meetings we spend less time on review and more time on moving forward. In the formal piano lessons I used to take, we spent a surplus of time discussing issues that I now can fix on my own time. This way, we spend more time during meetings moving forward and discussing new things that I can try. 

What could be working better?  How can you make sure this happens?

Personally, I feel like my most prominent issue so far has been lack of communication during meetings. I often avoid asking for clarification when needed, and although I’ve always been able to figure out the missing information, it would be easier for me to simply ask for the information to be repeated. This issue can be easily resolved; I’ll be sure to be more aware during our next meeting in order to ensure that I’m asking for clarification when necessary.

During the past few weeks, I’ve begun to see my pieces come together more and more; I’m really excited what else I can accomplish in the coming weeks.

In-Depth #3

My In-Depth project has been progressing well. In addition to Isn’t She Lovely, I’ve begun to work on a new piece, Fly Me to the Moon. My mentor said that she feels like these are both very good selections for me, as the chords are somewhat simple, and they both have repeating sections, which allows me to try a few different approaches throughout the verses. She also mentioned that these pieces, although containing similar elements, have a different enough style that it allows me to try a few different types of techniques. I haven’t selected my final piece yet, but we discussed some potential options.

What went particularly well during your mentoring sessions?

During my sessions, I’ve noticed that my mentor has an effective way of teaching me this specific skill; since the point of my project is to be able to improvise piano accompaniment, I need to learn what kind of chord structures, patterns, etc will be effective in certain situations. My mentor helps me by giving me suggestions on certain chords and rhythms to try, and then gives me the freedom to adapt and try new things as I get more comfortable. I also enjoy the fast pace of our sessions, as it allows us to get a lot done in the short time we have together while I can do my own self directed learning on my own time. 

What learning challenges emerged?

So far, my biggest learning challenge has probably been re-adapting to an effective practicing schedule. Since I took piano lessons in the past, I know what kind of schedule is necessary to build muscle memory and make progress. After taking a break from actively practicing piano, I’ve noticed that I’ve struggled to re-establish a consistent practice schedule.

What three strategies could improve the quality of your mentoring interactions?

Although this isn’t a strategy to use during a session, I feel that I could learn more effectively if I further improved my fundamental knowledge of scales, chords, sightreading, etc. During meetings, I occasionally feel like I’m held back by the time that it takes me to read the charts, and if I spend some more time working on fundamental technique, I’d probably get more out of each session. 

I also feel like I could get more out of each session if I wrote more comprehensive notes on the music I’m playing. Most notably, my teacher gives a lot of suggestions on potential elements to add to certain parts of the piece, and I could probably have more to work from if I more clearly recorded each suggestion and why it would be effective. 

Finally, I also feel as if I more clearly articulated my ideas for each piece. Since a lot of my project is improvisation-based, my mentor and I often talk about different things I could potentially incorporate. Often, when I’m at home, I try lots of different approaches, but I don’t keep a record of them, so it becomes difficult to recall them during a conversation. To aid this issue, I can write down certain things that I tried and liked. This way, I can discuss it with my mentor, and I also have a good way to see that kind of thing I like to incorporate. 

I’m really happy with what I’ve accomplished so far on my in-depth, and I’m having a great time re-exploring a skill that I let become “rusty”. I’m looking forward to the next few weeks of my project!

In-Depth #2

My mentor, Liz, teaches all levels of piano and music theory professionally, which evidently, are crucial aspects of my project. Liz also specializes in Jazz, and although I’m not studying Jazz specifically, keyboard improvisation and Jazz piano are closely related, and many of the concepts in Jazz piano are applicable to keyboard harmony/ improv and vice versa.

During my first meeting, I brought 1 lead sheet to begin working on: “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder. We discussed common aspects of keyboard harmony, but focused on distributing the chords between the left hand, right hand, and voice part. We also looked at the music that I brought and discussed some ways I could approach it.

So far, we’ve been looking at various chord structures/ patterns that are commonly used, and hopefully, I’ll soon be able to utilize these seamlessly, but for now, I’ve been predetermining several ways that I could approach each piece. I’ve been practicing my pieces at home, and I’ve been making an effort to try playing it differently each time. I’ve also been trying to practice basic techniques like scales/ chords, since I have to relearn a lot of fundamental knowledge.


In Depth #1

It’s finally time to start In-Depth 2020! After enjoying last year’s project so much, I’m looking forward to what these next few months have in store.

This year, I’ve decided on studying keyboard harmony/ composition on the piano. Even as someone with piano experience, I’ve often struggled to play music off of leadsheets in an interesting way. Even while technically playing the chords and the notes, there is so much more that can be added to the music through improvisation and embellishments. Hopefully, these skills can also be applied to my own chord progressions, and the skills gained during this study will eventually allow me to write more complex and interesting progressions.

Although I haven’t found a mentor yet, I’m actively searching for a qualified person who’s willing to mentor me. Until then, I’m still practicing the minimal skill I have, and doing some research online to find some basic skills that I can hopefully begin applying soon. I look forward to really beginning my project in the next few weeks!