Finding similarities across musical genres


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 teach everyone who wants to learn piano improv and to help people in general.

Seen in this light, my first Facebook Live event, during which I played relaxing piano music, was a wonderful experience for me. It helped focus my musical efforts in a productive way, and several hundred viewers tuned in to listen. I’ve also posted the video on YouTube. If you missed it the first time around, you can watch it here:

Ron Drotos Facebook Live: Relaxing Piano Music

The interesting thing about choosing the music to play for this event was that there’s relaxing music in many different genres. Incidentally, this is why I’m almost never satisfied by the playlists that Spotify puts together for me. It’s because Spotify only bases it on musical genre, whereas I listen to music based on other criteria.

For example, I may decide to listen to the “lightness” that pianist John Lewis brings to his comping behind saxophonist Lester Young. John Lewis’ playing in a quartet setting makes me feel good and it gives me ideas on how to accompany soloists myself. But then the next day, when I see Spotify’s “personalized” playlist for me, it includes a bunch of Lester Young recordings that don’t have the same feeling as the ones with John Lewis on piano. They’ll also put a variety of other jazz on the list which doesn’t relate to what I listened to either. It’s because they’re only looking at genre. Ironically, I can find a similar feeling in much of The Beatles’ music, but that doesn’t register in the Spotify algorithm. (An interesting side note: Maybe the similarity in musical feeling between jazz pianist John Lewis and The Beatles was one of the reasons why they signed his group The Modern Jazz Quartet to their Apple record label. I just realized this!)

“Relaxing” piano music is similar. For my Facebook Live performance, I opened with a New Age piece I composed. It follows the 12-bar blues sequence, but substitutes all major 7th chords instead of the more bluesy dominant 7th chords. This in turn led me towards some beautiful chord substitutions I wouldn’t have otherwise arrived at.

Here’s the chord sequence I used for my “D major 7th blues.” (I’ll have to come up with a better title! Perhaps “Morning Calm” or “Morning Mist.”)

Dmaj7/ Gmaj7/Dmaj7/Dmaj7



The next piece I played was Duke Ellington’s “The African Flower,” which has more in common with pop and New Age Music than might be immediately apparent. (His “Single Pedal of a Rose” is another one like this.)

After that, I improvised a piece on the spot, and then went into “Over The Rainbow,” complete with jazz harmonies. For the final selection, I took a cue from the lyric to “Killing Me Softly” and began a free improvisation in the style of a Spanish classical guitarist. I came back to the guitar fingerstyle texture during the solo later on in the song as well.

This experience reminded me that whatever our individual musical interests are, we can explore them across many musical genres. This exploration can fulfill us even more that staying inside a single genre might. Dig into your study of music whenever you can, and good luck.

Stay strong, and “let the music flow!”


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