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So far Ron has created 1132 blog entries.

Keeping our musical thread going

By |November 12th, 2021|

Lots of great stuff going on here, and over the past few weeks I’ve experienced the same thing that many of you email me about: life can become too busy for us to get to our music (or, in my case, this newsletter) as often as we’d like. I’ve been performing and teaching around the clock, and also had a wonderful but unexpected project come up that kept me very busy. When this happens to me, I try to remember what the true priority is: to keep our musical thread going. If we can’t play music for 3 hours per [...]

Understanding the process of learning piano improvisation

By |October 24th, 2021|

“Practice licks.” “Don’t practice licks.” “Play everything in all 12 keys.” “Stay with one key for a while until you’ve mastered it.” “The Real Book is great!” “The Real Book is terrible!” “Start by improvising with scales.” “Start by improvising on chord tones. Hey Improvisers, Let’s begin by taking a deep breath. It’s been about 5 years since I’ve watched any YouTube “musical advice” videos, but earlier today I couldn’t resist. I was enjoying the film of Miles Davis playing “So What” from an old TV show, and YouTube recommended a video on the right side of the window caught [...]

The benefits of playing “Up A Lazy River” on piano

By |October 16th, 2021|

Hey Improvisers! Have you ever wondered how some rock, pop, and jazz musicians play with such a relaxed, natural-sounding rhythm? With many of them, especially those who developed their sound in the 1960s, it’s because they grew up listening to and playing the classic songs of the 1930s and 1940s. These songs had catchy melodies, beautiful chord progressions that sometimes hinted at the blues, and a compelling swing rhythm underneath it all. Hoagy Carmichael’s “Up A Lazy River” is one such song. We don’t hear about “Lazy River” much anymore, but from the early 1930s until the early 1970s it [...]

We’re transitioning to a new era

By |October 11th, 2021|

Hey Improvisers, I received the most inspiring comment today on my KeyboardImprov YouTube channel. Nyssa wrote: “I love this! I am working on this tune for an arranging class, and we didn't understand why a Monk tune was labeled bebop. Thanks for the historical context!” First of all, good luck to Nyssa and the other arranging students! Secondly, this comment keys in on the exact reason I’m making these videos. We’re at the end of an era and are transitioning to another one. We’ve left behind the era when jazz musicians remembered the time when the music was created. Although [...]

Going beyond modal harmony with Gil Evans’ “Las Vegas Tango”

By |October 3rd, 2021|

Hey Improvisers, As revered as the composer arranger Gil Evans is in some ways, his true role in the development of modal jazz is usually unrecognized. Let’s put it another way: when we hear someone credit Miles Davis with inventing or developing modal jazz, we could easily substitute Gil’s name for Miles’s. (Or, at the very least, give them co-credit.) Yes, it’s true that Davis popularized modal jazz, mainly through his amazing 1959 album Kind Of Blue. There were examples of modal jazz going back to Benny Goodman’s 1938 Carnegie Hall performance of “Sing, Sing, Sing,” which I personally heard [...]

The #1 key to learning to improvise on piano

By |September 26th, 2021|

Hey Improvisers! Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what holds people back from learning to improvise. And every week, with all types of pianists, I’ve noticed that it’s not due to a lack of talent, or a lack of time, or any of that. In fact, the number one thing that holds most people back is that they can’t imagine themselves every actually “getting it.” They can’t picture themselves in their minds eye improvising on piano. They can’t emotionally feel themselves doing it. Form decades of experience, I’ve learned how to ignore these feelings when they come [...]

Using a technique from Stravinsky on J.J. Johnson’s “Lament”

By |September 19th, 2021|

Hey Improvisers, After I make each of my Journey Through The Real Book videos, I enjoy watching them and writing all the annotations for the timestamps. Since I don’t usually plan the musical arrangements, it’s fun to go back and see what I actually played! Today, I was a little surprised to hear that I played something on the jazz ballad “Lament,” that reminded me of Stravinsky. Well… yes and no. I was surprised because I made the video a few days ago and didn’t recall playing anything Stravinsky-like on it. But at the same time I wasn’t really surprised, [...]

Deep immersion in the music we love

By |September 5th, 2021|

Hey Improvisers! Even though there’s more music available to us nowadays than ever before, I’ve noticed that we generally don’t tend to listen as deeply as we once did. While it’s great to listen to music in the car, or while at work, it’s also vital to listen while doing nothing else, so we can immerse ourselves in the music. Deep listening. Immersion. Letting the sounds wash over us. Absorbing the music. When I was a teenager, I only had a handful of albums. But one thing I did do was lie down on my bed almost every day at [...]

Charlie Watts (A jazz drummer trapped in a rock band)

By |August 29th, 2021|

Hey Improvisers, The great Charlie Watts passed away this week. Watts was (is) one of my musical heroes, and in a very real sense was a jazz drummer trapped in one of the most popular rock bands on the planet. (Please excuse the “trapped” pun!) Charlie discovered jazz as a youth when he heard Gerry Mulligan’s tune “Walking Shoes,” and initially turned down the gig with the Rolling Stones because he didn’t like most rock and roll music. Of course, he grew to love playing rock but in his heart, he retained the jazz sensibility and would open up to [...]

2 tips to help you avoid feeling overwhelmed when practicing piano

By |August 22nd, 2021|

Hey Improvisers! It’s very common these days to feel overwhelmed when we sit down at the piano. And yes, this is understandable because there’s so much we could practice. If we feel all of this at once, then we’ll usually feel overwhelmed. We pianists, however, deserve better. Much better. The piano is such an amazing instrument, we want to feel excited each time we sit down to play. Let’s begin by reminding ourselves that it’s called “PLAYing the piano!” If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by everything you’re being told you have to learn, then let’s reverse the situation. First [...]