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 [...]

Evolution of Blues Piano

By |March 5th, 2020|

It’s fascinating to study a specific musical genre and see how it’s evolved over time. Learning about music in this way is fun, exciting, and we begin to understand how each style within the genre relates to everything else that came before as well as after. I first got the idea for this from my college music history professor, Dr. Larson. The class was called Solo Literature and was about all the music written for piano, organ, and harpsichord. Dr. Larson was a very inspiring professor and would occasionally interrupt his lectures by proclaiming something like, “Arpeggios. Someone could learn [...]

Playing “Heebie Jeebies” as a jazz piano solo

By |March 3rd, 2020|

I’ve just posted a new Journey Through The Real Book video on YouTube. It’s #146, which is the early jazz standard “Heebie Jeebies” which was recorded by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five. This week, I’ve begun listing a play-by-play of each new video, as well as going back and gradually doing this for the whole series. Here’s the video, followed by the play-by-play which you can also find under the video itself. Heebie Jeebies: Journey Through The Real Book #148 https://youtu.be/-kh0r_3sYaI Ron Drotos: Jazz piano solo and musical/historical discussion of the jazz standard “Heebie Jeebies,” originally recorded by Louis [...]

An insight from Herbie Hancock

By |March 2nd, 2020|

Hey everyone! Thanks to all of you have started my 10-week Skype Intensive “Mastering The Modes” mini-course. We’ve begun with exploring the difference in sound and musical uses of the Ionian and Lydian modes and already some of you have emailed me to say how you’re experiencing the Lydian mode in a whole new way. Mission accomplished, and now on to the Mixolydian! (If you’re interested, it’s not too late to get started. Just reply to this email and we’ll set up a time for our first session of 30 minutes.) Lots of stuff going on here, and for starters, [...]


By |February 27th, 2020|

We hear about binge-watching all the time: “How was your weekend?” “Great! I binge-watched 4 seasons of Game Of Thrones.” That can be fun, but as a musician, have you ever binge-listened? “How was your weekend?” “Great! I binge-listened to every Billy Joel album from The Stranger through The Bridge!” “Great! I binge-listened to the whole set of Charlie Parker live recordings by Dean Benedetti!” “Great! I binge-listened to all 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas!” I’ve personally done all of these and can tell you that it’s fun and will give you insights into these musicians like nothing else can. It’s [...]

360 degree learning

By |February 23rd, 2020|

I learned a new term the other day: “360 degree learning.” Have you ever heard that? Until one of my students used it, I hadn’t. It’s a great expression! “360 degree learning” means learning in a whole way. From all angles. Learning on different levels and in various ways, all at the same time. Here’s the paradox: Even with all the multitudes of instructional materials available today, most pianists learn in a very narrow way. Most instructional videos or written lessons are frontloaded with music theory, which is fine in some ways. But if that’s all we use, we’re actually [...]

Mastering The Modes

By |February 21st, 2020|

Hey everyone! From the emails I receive, it looks like the biggest stumbling block to playing jazz piano is the whole subject of modes. People get stuck at: 1. What exactly are modes? 2. When are modes used? 3. What modes to use for each chord? and 4. How to use modes to improvise fluently. Modes are such an important part of improvising jazz solos, and because aspiring players don’t understand them in a musical way, many people spend years (and decades) wondering “how do I get better?” The modes end up slowing them down, because they have to think [...]