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About Ron

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So far Ron has created 1046 blog entries.

Coming to a new way of thinking about our music

By |March 25th, 2020|

I once attended a workshop for teachers, and the instructor said something I had never thought about before: “If you want to get to a new level, you have to come to a new way of thinking.” Over the years, it’s gradually dawned on me that this is exactly what the greatest musicians do. They’ve come to a new way of thinking. Here are a few examples: Herbie Hancock: “Hmmm.... What if I leave the 3rd and 7th out of chord voicings?” Beethoven: “Hmmm… What if I have a choir sing during my symphony?” Mary Lou Williams: “Hmmm…. What if [...]

What if Bill Evans wrote “Giant Steps?”

By |March 24th, 2020|

Have you ever noticed how in the jazz world, we tend to play each tune like the most famous player who's associated with that tune? So, if you play a Duke Ellington tune, you tend to play it like Duke Ellington, or a Parker tune, you tend to play it just like Charlie Parker. In one sense there's nothing wrong with that, because we learn by assimilating those styles and everything. But that's not what those people themselves did. Duke Ellington did not play Ellington tunes like Ellington himself did. They did an album together so you can hear it [...]

Ideas for playing “Hot Toddy” as a jazz piano solo

By |March 23rd, 2020|

The 1953 jazz standard “Hot Toddy” is a wonderful piece to play, but it’s not a typical jam session tune. Composed by Ralph Flanagan, the tune became popular in part because of its repetitive, riff-like melody, and as such it can be viewed historically as a predecessor of Rock and Roll. “Hot Toddy” can be played in many ways, and it’s fascinating to explore various interpretations and see how they relate to how the tune’s been played before. The English bandleader Ted Heath’s recording of “Hot Toddy” features a catchy bass riff, played by the baritone sax, that evokes both [...]

Finding similarities across musical genres

By |March 22nd, 2020|

  Hey everyone, I hope you’re staying safe and sane during this time. One interesting aspect of this I’ve been seeing is that a lot of you are playing tons of piano lately. Many people are using their time at home to sit down and tap into their desire to become better pianists. We’re also finding that music can help calm us and make us feel better. It keeps us focused and ultimately better prepared to face the challenges around us. So many of you have written to me about this that It’s inspiring me to double-up my efforts to [...]

Improvising on Pachelbel’s Canon

By |March 20th, 2020|

Pachelbel’s Canon is perhaps the most widely-beloved piece of classical music in the world. I’ve often asked myself why this is so, because there are many pieces of classical music that are as beautiful as the Pachelbel, but aren’t as popular. I’ve come up with two reasons why I think the Pachelbel is so beloved: 1. It’s based on the same type of repeating chord progression that pop music is based on. And 2. The chord progression moves down the interval of a 4th three times in the eight-measure pattern. The movement down a 4th is very relaxing. To summarize: [...]

Playing relaxing piano music

By |March 18th, 2020|

Hey everyone, I remember one night about 10 years ago, when I was playing piano in a restaurant. It was my friend Marc’s steady gig, and he had asked me to fill in for him because he was out of town playing a concert that evening. The restaurant was packed, and the waiters and waitresses were hustling and bustling back and forth through the dining room trying to keep everything in order. I played a variety of different types of music, ranging from jazz to pop and Latin styles. Incidentally, my approach to playing background music (commonly known as “cocktail [...]

The healing power of an hour at the piano

By |March 17th, 2020|

After spending Monday teaching piano lessons all day via Skype and Zoom, I woke up Tuesday morning to see an email from one of those students. He said how great it was to be able, during crazy times, to “forget about all that and just focus on music.” His email reminded me about a big part of the possible role of the piano in our lives. Playing piano with focused attention has the power to touch deep parts of ourselves. It helps heal us and nurture our souls. Rather than view this as an “escape” from life, it actually refreshes [...]

Learning by Asking Questions

By |March 13th, 2020|

Once, at a school where I was teaching piano, someone asked all the teachers to write down something they were good at doing. After thinking this over for a few minutes, I wrote down “I know how to learn.” This is true. I know how to learn. And a big part of learning is asking questions to those who have already learned how to do what we ourselves seek to do. I’ve always asked a lot of questions. In fact, when I was in college, my composition teacher, Hale Smith, used to generously come in to his office an hour [...]

An Art Tatum anecdote from Billy Taylor about reharmonizing jazz standards at the piano

By |March 8th, 2020|

I love giving myself musical projects! They’re inspiring and give me a lot of energy to learn more about music and become a better musician. Therefore….. Each month, I'll now be featuring a "Musician Of The Month" on my blog. I'm doing this for both you and me, as a listening project and so we can learn more about many of the great pianists and keyboard players in various genres of music. For this month, I'm focusing on one of my own piano teachers, Dr. Billy Taylor. I studied with Billy for 4 summers during the 1980s at the Jazz [...]

The enduring legacy of McCoy Tyner

By |March 7th, 2020|

McCoy Tyner (1938 – 2020) influenced just about every jazz pianist since he revolutionized jazz piano in the early 1960s. Incredibly, he even influenced many of those pianists who had already developed mature styles before then. For example, I heard some McCoy in the playing of my own jazz piano teacher, Billy Taylor, when I studied with him in the 1980s, even though Taylor had developed his style in the 40s and 50s. MyCoy Tyner took the jazz world by storm as a member of The John Coltrane Quartet, and his influence can be felt almost everywhere in one way [...]