To celebrate the release of the mammoth new Chick Corea 3 CD plus documentary film box set The Musician, we had KEYBOARD readers on our Facebook page ask Chick whatever questions were on their minds.
Read this very special Q&A below, and stay-tuned for our full interview with him, coming shortly!
Keyboardist Dan Goldman from the UK asks, “Why did Chick decide to retire his Rhodes Mark V and could he tell us what was special about the piano and how he liked to have it set up?”
CC: I can’t take it on the road anymore, so on-tour I now play my Rhodes sample on the Yamaha Montage. If you want a really deep and technically astute answer about the mechanics of my Rhodes, talk to Brian Alexander, who has worked as my keyboard tech since the early 1980’s. He builds pianos, and he’s an amazing renaissance guy. He can build anything! Brian, singlehandedly through the years, just kept tweaking that Stage Rhodes for me. He kept adding things and regulating it – doing things to the hammers, putting different degrees of hardness on them as they go from low to high. He did all kinds of little adjustments to that thing, and gradually, every time he worked on it, it got a little better. And now, it just sounds incredible. You’ve never played a Rhodes like this before. If you sat down at it, as long as there’s a decent sound system, you’d be amazed at the sound of this instrument.
Luis L. Valezuela writes, “If you could take only one keyboard voicing with you to a desert island, what would it be?”
CC: My favorite chord voicing? Are you trying to reduce me to an ant?” [He laughs]. I couldn’t live with just one chord voicing!
Ernie Martin writes, “Mr. Corea, I am working through Czerny exercises.. ( The Art of Finger Dexterity and Daily Exercises ) as well as Bach inventions. My question; what specifically are the studies you took before leaving Berklee?”
CC: Well first, just to set the record straight, I never attended Berklee as a student. Before Berklee, from when I was eight-years-old on and off through high school, I took piano lessons from a classical pianist who lived in Boston and was a friend of my family. His name was Salvatore Sullo and he introduced me to some of the easier works of the classical composers. He also taught me a lot about fingering. Lots more info at http://chickcoreamusicworkshops.com Good luck.
Olivier Charron writes, “Mr Corea, I just got a small, two-octave MIDI controller and started to transpose my keyboard knowledge to playing bass lines on the keytar. What is the first advice that comes to mind for someone in my situation? Thanks a lot!”
CC: Listen to some of your favorite bass players and the bass lines they play - do some transcriptions of them - actually copy them out and practice them. Alongside that, begin developing your own bass lines based on what you hear and what you like.
Brandon Newsom writes, “Chick, do you still use your Synclavier and Yamaha DX series keyboards?”
CC: I stopped using and keeping the old vintage keyboards. As much as I love them, it became impractical for me after a while.
Andrew Palmer writes, “What's the one technique you had wished you had learned earlier in your career?”
CC: Stride piano from the likes of James P. Johnson and Art Tatum.
Scott F. Sneller writes, “Do you collect and keep vintage keyboards? If so, How many Keyboards do you currently own?”
CC: I have kept one old keyboard. It's my Rhodes Stage model from the early '80s that I've maintained in pretty good shape through the years and still sounds amazingly great thanks to my keyboard tech Brian Alexander.
Simon Luchak writes, “Does he have a technique for remembering scale manipulations outside of minor and major keys?”
CC: I have a whole thing that I go through in my online workshops about the whole aspect of naming chords and scales. I’m trying to get musicians to de-focus on what they call things, and start getting focused on how things sound and how to use them. For instance, if you want to define a scale, rather than call it Ionian, Phrygian, Russian, Bronx or whatever, you can define a scale as a series of notes that go up and down. Any series of notes you put together can be called a scale. And then when they start to separate a little more into intervals, you could maybe even call it an arpeggio. Maybe you have a scale that is half arpeggio and half scale. The point is, who cares? [He laughs]. I encourage young musicians to learn how to understand and recognize really standard nomenclature, so that they can talk to each other. So they know what a G clef is, what a bass clef is, what a staff is, what a quarter note is, etc. These are the things that are important. But when it comes to chord symbols, I have a whole thing on them. People get all stressed-out with chord symbols, asking “What should I call this chord?” I tell them, “If you have a specific sound that you want, write the notes down. There’s your voicing!” Just call it a C minor chord. What’s on the bottom, a C? Call it a C. Who cares? What does it sound like, and how do you use it. That’s what I try to say in my workshops. I try to break things down and get the musicians to listen to what they’re doing, and be their own judges. I say, “Do you like this? Okay. How do you practice? Well, slow it down. Make it beautiful.” There are certain things that seem to work for everybody, if they at least check it out.
Leonardo Valenzuela writes, “What does he recommend for developing fingers and hand independence?
CC: That’s a matter of how you practice, which is an important thing to understand. You basically have to find the right gradient of practicing. It’s like physical exercise. You have to learn the right gradient of motion. If you go too fast and too hard, you’re going to hurt yourself. If you go too slow, you’re going to make no gain. You have to find the right motion. I always try and encourage any physical practice with the hands to get done in time. In other words, set a tempo for yourself, and learn to play a phrase at a very slow tempo. Control those hands and fingers to play a phrase at a slow tempo, but not stressing to play slow. Get comfortable with a graceful, slow motion. When you can work out a fingering, or how the hands coordinate on a phrase, with a gracefully, slow, regular tempo, you’ve got it. You'll say, “That’s it!” Then you just increase the tempo. A very common thing that I even fall into myself, but I’m getting better at it as I get older – is when I’m trying to learn a new phrase, I slow it down to a point where I can play it really gracefully and comfortably. When I can do that solidly, enough times, I can usually play it at any tempo after that. I wrote a song for my current tour called “A Spanish Song,” and there are a couple of phrases in it that were easy to write, but that are hard to play. I had to really get them under my fingers in order to have them flow out right. I had to practice slowly. And actually, I’m still practicing those go$damn phrases! [He laughs].