Here there be dragons...

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." - Winterson

This month's completely random adventure

Okay so this post is a few weeks late, but hey - it's December, time and calories don't count ;)

So a while back I saw a stunning stained glass dragon.  I don't even usually really like stained glass, but it was just so awesome.  And even though I *knew* there was no way I could afford it, I clicked through to find the price.  Only to find...  the pattern?   Wait, what?

IME, if people are selling patterns, that means it's a craft that other people can do.   Idk where my little brain thought stained glass came from but I definitely didn't think it was an "in your living room" activity. So I googled...

And...  while it *can* be an in your living room activity, it seems some actual knowledge and skill might be required ;).  And tools.   Cost falls somewhere between embroidery and sailing as a hobby ;).   More than string, less than a boat.

Okay, so maybe there's a middle ground?   Went looking for lessons.  Local lessons.  Surprisingly, I found them?  And multiple options?  Like more options to learn stained glass making than piano?   The ? stands cause I'm still not convinced I'm not living in an alternate reality here, but such is life.  

So I picked the one I liked based mostly off completely arbitrary things on their websites AND availability of upcoming beginner lessons and signed myself up.  Two Friday mornings in a row.  Usually this would be a problem but it's December which means A: I have a fair bit of vacation time to use up, and B: so does everybody else I work with so my workload is comparatively light.

Away I went...  Home based studio, but nicely laid out, clean and tidy.   Instructor told me I'd have the choice of two pieces (beginner friendly - I knew before ever reaching out that the dragon of my dreams would be in no way accessible for a beginner).   By the end of the second day, I'd have it completed.  Sweet.

So it starts with pick the glass.   She had a ton of different options and walked me through different types and things to consider.  This was definitely the most stressful part of the whole adventure for me.  I do NOT have a good eye for colour and am very aware of that fact.  I've been taught, over time, some basic colour combos that work well together (working at OD provided me with more useful lifeskills than I realised at the time -- although they'd be completely appalled and horrified to see that knowledge applied to PPT presentations on a daily basis ;-P), however I acknowledge I have no eye for what might look good.  Even in stabbing things, 90% of the time when I go off-script and pick colours I like, I don't love the end result :(.  And glass is significantly more expensive than thread.

But one was SO pretty.  lol so then I just needed to find another one to compliment it and away we went...

I started by learning how to cut and break glass.  This is actually so much fun ;).  Got to practice on "throwaway" material first so as to not waste my pretty glass, but it turns out I'm not half bad at breaking stuff ;-P.  

So then we traced the pattern onto cardboard and cut it out (remembering to number all the pieces -- so one numbered picture and one set of numbered pieces).   Then trace pattern onto the glass and start cutting.  This was mostly okay.  Some learning curve in that if the pressure wasn't right (too soft or too hard) it didn't break well, and at least one piece the instructor rescued for me.   But all but that one were deemed acceptable ;)

Next up was grinding all the edges to take the rough bits off and make sure everything was the right shape.  We placed it all on a cork-board to check that the pieces worked together and that was the end of Day 1.

End of Day 1

So came back next week, we had to pick what colour soldering we'd use (I went with silver) because it would impact which foil we used.  Black is traditional, but I went with silver.

Next up was to clean each piece and then line every side with copper foil.  Think of when you have to put a screen protector on your phone and envision doing that on every single edge.   Once I got the hang of it, it was actually fairly satisfying to get it perfectly straight and bubble-free on the first go ;).  The perfectionist in me was pleased.  This would not last long ;)

So then we re-aligned everything and put all the pieces together.  We filled in some extra copper in a couple spaces and then I got to play with a heat gun.   Apparently I have a knack for this?   Lol I did it the way she showed me for a bit but then I found a better (for me) way that was much easier and much faster.  When instructor looked over my shoulder she told me it was excellent.  Apparently that was a more advanced technique *shrug*.  Idk, but to me it was easier to make it look good.

About that -- you could spend your whole life fixing "just one more part" with a soldering iron.   The perfectionist side of me did NOT enjoy this part.   I would still be there today if I hadn't had a meeting that afternoon I'd had to get back for ;)

Anyways - we did this around all the joints on both sides.   It was definitely my favourite part of the adventure, even if it could've been an endless adventure.   We then finished it off with a frame and a hanging chain (both of which are apparently optional, but I liked the finished look) and then just a quick wash and done!

I made a thing!

So overall I am pleased with it, it was an interesting experience and I'm glad I did it, but overall, I don't see it as something I need to do again ;).  Certainly not something I need to do often enough to become good enough to create my magic dragon.

And the search for the next hobby continues...

Next step in the piano journey

So since starting piano lessons I've actually been playing way LESS than before.  This is... Not exactly the desired result :(  The issue isn't lessons themselves, so much as fit between the teacher and myself.  In this case, I think the biggest challenge for me is the lack of plan.  He asks me what I want to do each week and we do that.  Like, great for flexibility but...  I don't know what I should do?  I'm a real beginner, I don't know what I don't know.  I raised that point, but nothing really changed.  And we have yet to do anything to completion.   We did one scale once - never any follow up.   We've done a ton of songs either in the book or that I brought music in, and he'll give me the 101 on parts of them but never actually get to the point of being able to play them.  In the entire time I've been taking lessons, I haven't learned a single piece well enough to play it through (seriously - my YouTube has died a sad death).   I even tried bringing a lesson book and he just kind of flipped through it and picked some random songs, we'd work through the fingering and any interesting timing etc, but again - just enough to get the concept, never enough to play it well.  So suffice to say, when lessons end at end of Jan, I won't be continuing them.

Nola walks across my keyboard occasionally,
but it's less dramatic with a digital piano ;)

At some point, I will prob start a search for another teacher.  But...  Options are not great where I live these days (ironically there are a ton where I used to live...  you know, when I didn't have a piano ;-P)

So things I know:

- I still really enjoy playing and would like to improve

- I am completely stalled in improving my skills without help

- I absolutely need a program and/or direction of some sort

- Depending on what definition is used, I'm either "high beginner" or "low intermediate" lol - whatever that means  

- I am, historically, very good at following structured programs and self-learning 

So...  I once again consulted my friend Google.   It's been a year - what might have changed?   The app I've been using (Flowkey) still ranks as basically the top for what I need, but I was super frustrated with their lessons which had a wicked combination of: no plan or structure to them AND depending on the course, if you couldn't play a particular piece well enough you couldn't progress, which would be okay except their course software doesn't let you slow songs down in short sections to learn like their song software does.   So I was REALLY struggling and super-frustrated with the lessons.

However, there are a couple this time around that I didn't try before.  Of those, after more research than is reasonable to do for such a thing, I narrowed it down to PianoNote (live instructors) and Playground Sessions (another app).   PS I originally dismissed last year because their whole selling feature was big names attached to it, except that the names mean very little to me and I don't need superstars, I need people who can teach.  However, the reviews this year suggested they've thoroughly revamped their classes and their software and so it was back in the running.  PN...  Idk, it has fabulous reviews, but I was really turned off by their website.  I couldn't tell whether it came with an app, how you access their live teachers, etc etc.  Too much advertising w too little info for me.

And then I found out that PS has BootCamp and a dashboard of stats.  Lol sold.  Anybody who's actually met me has probably realised boot camps are pretty much my thing.   Go super hard on something for a condensed period of time and see what happens?  I'm in!   (remember P90X3 days???)  And I love my data.  Even if it has no practical purpose whatsoever.   So the dashboard was an extra win.

So I now have both Flowkey (from last year) and Playground Sessions.  And I can say song selection and song-learning software is definitely better in Flowkey (although PS still has tons of songs I want to learn, so no lack).  However, the lessons are WAY better in PS.   Three levels: Rookie, Intermediate, and Advanced.   I'm doing Intermediate, and it's legitimately the right level for me -- I'm learning something new in almost every class and the lessons are challenging but achievable.  Win.  They absolutely build on one another in a structured manner and use a combination of video lessons and practical application which is great.  Also, the issue I ran into with FK about not being able to learn a section fast enough to survive a lesson is a non issue here -- you can slow down the track to whatever speed you can play and still get "full credit" for it.   Although I'm determined enough that I keep at it till I can get 100% at full speed -- at least with this app I have a chance to get there.   It also tracks every note red or green (as does FK) but also shows what I actually played if it's not green.  Was I too early?  Too late?  Wrong note?   Now I know...  Super helpful.   It's also much pickier about timing that FK, which while brutal at first, has been super helpful to my learning.   And it has background tracks which make it feel like you're playing something interesting even when you're doing very basic whole note cords ;).  So yeah, the app for learning random songs - not nearly as good as FK's, but the instructional portion?  WAY better.  Which is awesome.

Maybe between the two of them my piano skills will continue to improve this year :).  Wish me luck!