A few years ago I was in the last day of a music theory class I teach for teenage and adult musicians. We had been working intensively for two straight weeks and had covered a lot of material. To inspire the students, I told them to be "like The Beatles." The Beatles only knew a few chords when they started, and they learned dozens of songs with just those chords. At a certain point, they learned another chord, which enabled them to learn more songs, and so on." My point was that they shouldn't attempt to remember everything we'd covered in class, but to gradually apply their knowledge in a practical manner. This would help them enjoy it more and to keep their approach musical, not just theoretical.

As I finished speaking, a woman in the front row raised her hand and asked if she could "tell an anecdote," as she put it. She then delighted the whole class with her Beatles story:

This woman, who is originally from Hamburg, Germany, was a teenager in the early 1960s. One day (I'm guessing in 1962), she and a few friends stopped in a local restaurant to have lunch. They enjoyed the food but didn't like the band, which was playing much too loudly and not very well. The band was, you guessed it, The Beatles in their pre-fame days. This was the now-famous period in which the group played many hours each day and night, transforming themselves from an amateurish copy of American pop music into something extraordinary. At the time this story takes place, they were apparently still less than extraordinary.

As their lunch progressed, my student and her friends grew tired of the loud, raucous sounds and asked The Beatles to turn down. (Amazing in retrospect!) Even better, The Beatles refused! When I asked this woman if the other diners were enjoying the group, her eyes grew wide and she exclaimed, "There wasn't anyone else there! We were the only ones!"

Wow! Imagine, meeting someone who not only heard The Beatles during this rare period of their history, but who actually asked them to turn down!

This was when they still had greasy hair and wore leather jackets. Being fascinated by this early period of their development, I couldn't pass up this chance to ask my eye-witness friend a question that had been on my mind for years. I asked her, "When you saw them, did they have a punk rock, almost "dangerous" quality about them? Like the Sex Pistols or Clash later had?" She confirmed this: "absolutely."

Interestingly, John Lennon later claimed that The Beatles had "sold out" (ie: gone commercial) before they had even made their first record. He was talking about how much he loved the rawness they had in those early Hamburg days, when a group of four teenagers who only knew a few chords could electrify an audience!

Here are some free Piano Improv lessons to help you get started improvising or to take your current playing to the next level. Enjoy!