A new way of practicing piano!

After 45 years of playing piano, I’ve discovered a great new way of practicing!

Here’s what you do:

Make sure your piano or keyboard is near your computer, iPad, or whatever device you use to watch YouTube. Then pick a “topic” for practicing, like working on your jazz soloing or playing pop ballads. Start out by practicing a song you’re working on. Now here’s the new aspect of this: when you’ve played it for a while, go to YouTube and watch a video of the song (or listen to a recording). It could be by the original artist or a cover version. Either one, but make sure you watch and listen closely to how they play it. Become interested in something they’re doing, like maybe playing the rhythm a little differently than you do, or adding extra chord tones. Or how they phrase while soloing. Then go back to the piano and learn how to do what they did.

Practice this for a while, and then go back to YouTube. You could watch another rendition of the same song, or maybe a different song by the same artist. Then you learn from this and become motivated to practice more. And so on and so on.

Last night I did this with the jazz pianist Bill Evans. I didn’t plan it out, but I was playing the jazz standard “Stella By Starlight” on my keyboard. After about 20 minutes, I looked over at my computer and decided to listen to Evans play the tune with Miles Davis. It’s a classic version but I hadn’t heard it in a while. After hearing Evans’ solo, I dove back into the tune, incorporating a little of what I just heard him play. On my next break, I searched YouTube for more Bill Evans and came up with his recordings with bassist Gary Peacock from 1964. Since I love Peacock’s playing with Keith Jarrett’s trio, I was curious to hear him play with Evans. As it turns out, he brought a different kind of intensity to Evans’ playing which I enjoyed. So I returned to the keyboard and played another song, now newly refreshed by Evans’ bebop fire. I alternated like this a few more times and before I knew it, I’d been practicing for over 90 minutes!

Definitely try this for yourself. The experience was pretty amazing! Not only did I remain “fresh as a daisy” for the whole 90 minutes, but I learned something about Bill Evans at the same time.

You can try it with any type of music you wish, even classical. You could compare different versions of the same Bach fugue, or let your curiosity lead you to discover new Bach pieces or music by his contemporaries. Or contrapuntal music by various composers such as Beethoven, Shostakovich and jazz composer John Lewis. One step will lead to the next as the musical thread unfolds.

Have fun practicing like this and let me know how it goes. What have you discovered?

Try some of these free piano lessons; they’ll get you improvising at a whole new level!

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