At the beginning of this month, I made a goal to polish a piano song, and now I find myself wishing I'd been a bit more specific about what makes a song good enough to be considered polished. But I have a recording of a song that I feel okay sharing, so I think that counts! Here's my rendition of Birdy's cover of Skinny Love.
It's been fun remembering how to practice music again, and satisfying to make progress over a few weeks. This post is an assortment of thoughts from this process.
Skinny Love is quite repetitive in both the piano and singing parts (especially in the chorus, which repeats the same short phrase of notes eight times), so I spent some time thinking about the lyrics and designing an emotional arc for the music to help each section feel different.
My goal was to have an opening that was hesitant and shy, and to slowly grow in confidence over the first chorus and second verse towards a peak of hurt and anger in the second chorus ("all your love is wasted / and then who the hell was I?"). I sing the bridge ("who will love you?") with the sort of sad and withdrawn feeling I sometimes get after a fight, and I follow that with one last adamant plea of "come on skinny love".
I wrote daily practice notes in a community I'm a part of. This incentivized me to be deliberate in my practice, since I wanted to have concrete things to share. Each day I'd pick a new practice technique or else try to make clear progress on a small section of the piece.
today I went over yesterday's list of places where I make mistakes, but I reviewed them in reverse chronological order
this was great because when i was like "i dun wanna drill this section anymore, i'll just keep playing for fun", i would soon get to a section i had practiced earlier, which was much more useful than playing into a section i hadn't practiced yet
After talking about practicing this song for weeks, and getting it "performance ready", covid prevented me from actually being able to perform it live! So I decided to record myself playing.
I ended up recording the piano and singing parts separately, because my voice was too quiet when I recorded them together. This had some benefits - the main one being that I could put more care into my singing technique without worrying about playing the correct piano notes at the same time. However, it also posed some challenges. I generally prefer recording accompaniment first because singing with accompaniment is easier for singing in tune, and I recorded the piano first for that reason. But this particular piece has a lot of rubato - speeding up and slowing down for expressive effect - and I usually choose how fast the song goes at any point from what feels expressive to sing. When I recorded the piano part on its own, it was hard to move with the rubato I would usually sing with.
During the period I was trying to record Skinny Love, I noticed I often I played it best when I first sat down at the piano. The more I repeated the piece over a session, the more difficult it became to enjoy playing it and to play it well - perhaps I put more pressure on myself to play perfectly over the session, or perhaps I just got bored of the song with each repetition. Some of my favourite run-throughs were from just after a lovely long walk with a friend.
I'm glad to have a piano to regularly practice on these days. You can listen to the recording of my rendition of Birdy's cover of Skinny Love here! And if you have sheet music for a piece you think I'd enjoy playing (of a similar difficulty), I'd be very interested to see it!