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So far Ron has created 966 blog entries.

What makes a musician “great?”

By |November 9th, 2019|

What makes a “great” musician? In other words, what characteristic do they have that the rest of the field doesn’t have? Is it talent? No – I’ve met unbelievably talented musicians who have never fully developed their talent? Is it ability? No – We’ve all heard virtuosos whose playing is lifeless. Is it their depth and passion? Maybe – and at last we’re getting a little closer to zeroing in on musical “greatness.” So what IS it? What characteristic do Mitsuko Uchida, Bruce Springsteen, Ravi Shankar, Adele, and Duke Ellington have in common? While it may be counterproductive to our [...]

How to sound twice as good when playing The Girl From Ipanema

By |November 8th, 2019|

The Girl From Ipanema is one of the most frequently-played bossa nova tunes of all time. Jazz musicians play it at wedding receptions and cocktail parties all around the world, and it’s still one of Brazil’s most popular songs. After playing it about 1,000 times over the years, I stumbled upon a way to instantly make our performances of this great song about twice as good. Since you’ll benefit most from hearing it for yourself, rather than simply reading about it, I’ve made this video to demonstrate this for you. The Girl From Ipanema: Journey Through The Real Book #134 [...]

Perspectives on playing John Coltrane’s Giant Steps

By |November 4th, 2019|

Well, it’s taken 133 weeks, but our journey through the Real Book has finally brought us to John Coltrane’s seminal composition “Giant Steps!” In keeping with the hugely influential nature of this tune, I went deep on this one, producing a video I’m very proud of and one which I think will help you get a good overall perspective on playing the tune (whether you’ve been playing it for decades or are just now discovering it.) On the video: 1. I discuss both the compositional and historical aspects of the tune. 2. I’m delighted to share valuable insight about Coltrane [...]

Elton John, Rock Wakeman, and The Who

By |October 30th, 2019|

Although we may not realize it, every decade brings with it the end of another era of musicians. For instance, when I was in college, during the 1980s, many of the 1940s-50s jazz musicians of the bebop era were still around. I could speak with Max Roach after concerts, take lessons from Billy Taylor, and perform with Charlie Persip and many lesser-known players from that era. Now, that era is gone and I would do anything to be able to ask a few well-chosen questions of Dizzy Gillespie, for example. A few decades later, history is repeating itself with the [...]

Playing Jimmy Heath’s “Gemini” with a sense of “flow”

By |October 27th, 2019|

Here’s a fun video one of my students, Ralph, shared with me this week. It’s been out for a while, but I just saw it and thought it may make you smile: Tupractis https://youtu.be/Yv8AmiIF4C4 Even though the video makes a good point about practicing, we all know that practicing alone won’t get us to where we want to get with our music. After all, countless aspiring pianists practice for years and never reach even the minimum level where they can sit down and simply play tunes the way they’d like. Even more important than “what” to practice, is “how” to [...]

Is it OK to look at your hands while playing piano?

By |October 19th, 2019|

This week, someone asked me on the KeyboardImprov YouTube channel about looking at the keys while they played piano. They said they had trouble playing ragtime and music with an active left hand part without looking at their hands and they keys, and they asked for my advice. Here’s what I replied: It's OK to look at the keys when you're playing. Piano teachers tell their students, particularly beginning students, not to look at the notes so they become able to read music without constantly looking down. But when playing without sheet music, the truth is that everyone looks at [...]

5 ways to play piano well on those days when you’re not playing well

By |October 8th, 2019|

We’ve all had those days right? We’re playing piano at home, or in a rehearsal, or maybe even in a concert. And it’s not “happening.” The music isn’t flowing. Or it just sounds bland. Or we’re just playing the same-old-same-old bring stuff over and over again. What do you do when this happens? (And yes, it’s going to happen at times!) Over the years I’ve become fascinated with these moments, because they afford us a special opportunity to go “beyond ourselves” at the moment. In fact, going “beyond ourselves” is really the only way we’ll begin play better. This is [...]

Is it worth $200 – $300 to see Elton John in concert?

By |October 6th, 2019|

Is it worth $200 - $300 to see Elton John in concert? That’s the question I’ve asked myself several times over the past year, as Sir Elton tours the world one (long) last time, on his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour. You see, even though Elton’s Greatest Hits cassette tape was the first recording I ever bought and I’ve performed his songs countless times since then, I’ve never seen him in concert. So when tickets for his Madison Square Garden shows originally went on sale months ago, I eagerly logged into the Ticketmaster website 30 minutes before tickets went on [...]

Are you playing the correct melody to Miles Davis’ “Freddie The Freeloader?”

By |September 30th, 2019|

It’s only after we know the history of each tune, artist, and style of jazz that we’re truly free to either stay within it, alter it, or seek out a new approach entirely. The most radical jazz musicians are often the ones with a deep sense of what’s come before them. Sometimes this applies to an entire style of jazz. Early New Orleans Jazz is a good example of this. Every time I listen to one of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five recordings, I come away with a new arranging idea that I can apply to ant style I’m currently playing. [...]

Down the rabbit hole with Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane

By |September 23rd, 2019|

Do you ever listen to classic rock on the radio? I sometimes do, in the car, and while I enjoy many of the songs they play, I’ve come to realize it’s only a tiny sliver of the range of classic rock. In a way, it’s kind of like “pop rock that most listeners will keep listening to instead of changing the station.” So they play the same 5 Pink Floyd songs, the same 6 Billy Joel hits, and maybe the same 7 Led Zeppelin selections, week in and week out. But as musicians, we want to go deeper. We’re musical [...]