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Getting to a new level with your piano playing

By |February 20th, 2019|

Whatever level of "pianism" you're currently at, you got to this level by practicing certain things and having your musical experiences, whatever they may me. It's tempting to think that continuing in this direction will get you to the next level you're striving for, but that's not the case. "Playing faster," for instance, will just make you a faster player, not a player on a whole new level. In order to get to a whole new level, you'll need to approach learning music in a whole new way. This is what Beethoven, Miles Davis, Prince, and just about every great [...]

The 3 phases of playing a song on piano

By |February 17th, 2019|

Have you ever noticed that there are 3 phases of playing a song on piano? 1. New and fresh When we first learn to play a song on piano, it's a process of discovery. "Oh, the C chord leads to Em." "Hmmm... what voicing should I use on this F#7(b5) chord since there's an E in the melody?" "The bridge is 10 measures long." 2. Having fun with it Once we get over the initial learning curve, we find that we can play the song and we begin to express ourselves through it, improvising various rhythms and perhaps finding new [...]

Getting “out of the box” with Wayne Shorter

By |February 15th, 2019|

Have you ever noticed that although Wayne Shorter is often called “the greatest living jazz composer,” only a small portion of his tunes are commonly played? Sure, the tunes from his classic Blue Note album Speak No Evil are jam session staples, but other tunes, like “Dolores,” “Orbits,” and “Water Babies” receive little or no attention in this regard. And Shorter himself seems to either perform the tunes of his that no one else plays, or else alters his famous ones beyond recognition. Why is this? For one thing, Shorter views his compositions as works in progress. In interviews, he’s [...]

Duke Ellington and Rock music

By |February 14th, 2019|

One of the “fun and unusual” gigs I’ve had was that of music librarian for the jazz bandleader/drummer Bobby Rosengarden when he led the band for Jerry Lewis’ Muscular Dystrophy telethon. Bobby brought me in for 2 years, 1988 and 89, to keep the big band charts organized for the parts of the telethon that were broadcast from Secaucus, NJ. There wasn’t much work to do, and I got to hang out with musical stars like Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Orlando, Liza Minelli, and many others. I also enjoyed meeting all the band members and learning from them. I especially [...]

“Facts” of dubious distinction

By |February 11th, 2019|

Here are some "facts" I've heard during my musical career that I later discovered to be false. I'm sure there are many more; these are just the ones that I've remembered during the last 5 minutes or so. "You can't ever look at your hands while playing piano." "This chord voicing is hipper than that one." "Louis Armstrong was wrong to use celeste on his recording of Basin St. Blues." "Nice guys finish last." "Elvis is pop, not country." "West Side Story is corny." "Miles Davis composed the tune Blue In Green." "Always keep a steady tempo when practicing sightreading." [...]

What’s your path?

By |February 9th, 2019|

Classical piano students have a clear-cut path: Start taking lessons at a very early age, practice many hours each day, and in 20 years they’re virtuosos. Simple. But with rock, pop, jazz, and other styles that involve improvisation, many pianists flounder around for years without ever reaching the musical level they wish to be at. They dabble here and there, enjoying some of it along the way but ultimately become frustrated because they never really learn the skills or gain the necessary experience that will enable them to play the way they’d like to play. Why? Because with these musical [...]

What’s the emphasis in your jazz piano playing?

By |February 8th, 2019|

What’s the emphasis in your jazz piano playing? That’s a big question, and it has a companion question: What does your favorite jazz pianist emphasize? I say this because when we closely listen to the great jazz pianists, we hear that they don’t all emphasize the same things. Count Basie emphasized conciseness and a style that contrasted to the brassiness of his big band. Wynton Kelly emphasized swing. Keith Jarrett emphasizes an approach to expressing the inexpressible (at least that’s how I hear it in his playing). Oscar Peterson emphasized drama and excitement. Art Tatum emphasized technique and imagination. The [...]

Music as a door to culture

By |February 4th, 2019|

Besides being fun to play, the piano can give us a door through with which we can experience a different part of our own culture, or even a bit of an unfamiliar one. Even a simple piece of music, such as "Sailor's Dance" from the excellent Joy of First Year Piano (by Denes Agay) can provide this for us. While learning the notes, we can think about the old sailing ships that were out at sea, away from home, for up to years at a time. We can imagine the lively dances the sailors did to amuse themselves in the [...]

Listening to a wide array of music

By |February 3rd, 2019|

If we want to realize our musical potential, we need to listen to a wide array of music. After all, how could we possibly know in advance what music will resonate with us if we've never heard it before??? In this spirit, here are 3 pieces of music to check out. Listen to each one, and let this be the beginning of a long, rewarding musical journey! (Even if you're already an advanced musician.) Stravinsky: Symphony in C https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmnfwnfnKBA West African Highlife Band: Mama Dey For Kumba https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQntu5h_vOQ Paul Horn: Inside The Taj Mahal https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6htffFlnTI0 Enjoy! Enter your email here [...]

Learning how to learn

By |February 2nd, 2019|

Musicians know how to learn. In fact, this is a gift we musicians have given to ourselves. We have “learned how to learn.” We can sit down with an unfamiliar piece of music and come up with a method of learning it. A flexible method, which can vary from musician-to-musician, song-to-song, and day-to-day. We can even learn entirely new musical styles and genres. Amazing!!! (And not to be taken for granted.) Knowing “how to learn” can help us in just about anything we set out to do. For instance, I personally want to lose a little weight. Over the last [...]