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Ron's Blog on piano improv and the role of music in our lives

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Is it OK to look at your hands while playing piano?

This week, someone asked me on the KeyboardImprov YouTube channel about looking at the keys while they played piano. They said they had trouble playing ragtime and music with an active left hand part without looking at their hands and they keys, and they asked for my advice. Here’s what I replied: It's OK to look at the keys when you're playing. Piano teachers tell their students, particularly beginning students, not to look at the notes so they become able to read music without constantly looking down. But when playing without sheet music, the truth is that everyone looks at [...]

By |October 19th, 2019|general|0 Comments

5 ways to play piano well on those days when you’re not playing well

We’ve all had those days right? We’re playing piano at home, or in a rehearsal, or maybe even in a concert. And it’s not “happening.” The music isn’t flowing. Or it just sounds bland. Or we’re just playing the same-old-same-old bring stuff over and over again. What do you do when this happens? (And yes, it’s going to happen at times!) Over the years I’ve become fascinated with these moments, because they afford us a special opportunity to go “beyond ourselves” at the moment. In fact, going “beyond ourselves” is really the only way we’ll begin play better. This is [...]

By |October 8th, 2019|general|0 Comments

Is it worth $200 – $300 to see Elton John in concert?

Is it worth $200 - $300 to see Elton John in concert? That’s the question I’ve asked myself several times over the past year, as Sir Elton tours the world one (long) last time, on his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour. You see, even though Elton’s Greatest Hits cassette tape was the first recording I ever bought and I’ve performed his songs countless times since then, I’ve never seen him in concert. So when tickets for his Madison Square Garden shows originally went on sale months ago, I eagerly logged into the Ticketmaster website 30 minutes before tickets went on [...]

By |October 6th, 2019|general|0 Comments

Are you playing the correct melody to Miles Davis’ “Freddie The Freeloader?”

It’s only after we know the history of each tune, artist, and style of jazz that we’re truly free to either stay within it, alter it, or seek out a new approach entirely. The most radical jazz musicians are often the ones with a deep sense of what’s come before them. Sometimes this applies to an entire style of jazz. Early New Orleans Jazz is a good example of this. Every time I listen to one of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five recordings, I come away with a new arranging idea that I can apply to ant style I’m currently playing. [...]

By |September 30th, 2019|general|0 Comments

Down the rabbit hole with Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane

Do you ever listen to classic rock on the radio? I sometimes do, in the car, and while I enjoy many of the songs they play, I’ve come to realize it’s only a tiny sliver of the range of classic rock. In a way, it’s kind of like “pop rock that most listeners will keep listening to instead of changing the station.” So they play the same 5 Pink Floyd songs, the same 6 Billy Joel hits, and maybe the same 7 Led Zeppelin selections, week in and week out. But as musicians, we want to go deeper. We’re musical [...]

By |September 23rd, 2019|general|0 Comments

Attaining a good understanding of jazz history

I was going to title this “Attaining a good understanding of jazz history as it relates to piano performance practice” but that sounded a little too much like those kind of academic papers that end up in some drawer in the back room of a University library. (I’m sure some of the most wonderful writings about music are collecting dust somewhere. Let’s go read them!) So… Let’s talk about jazz history and how it can help us as pianists. I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past 2-3 years, because this important topic comes up every time I [...]

By |September 22nd, 2019|general|0 Comments

The boldness of Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect”

Imagine that we’re sitting down and writing a pop song together. It’s going to be a ballad, and we begin by noodling around on the piano with some chords in the key of Ab major. After a minute or two, a groove gets established. But there’s a small “problem.” Although we like the chord progression, we notice that it’s the standard I vi IV V that’s already been used in tens of thousands of popular songs over the years. Indeed, every kid knows it as the “Heart and Soul” chord progression that Tom Hanks played in the movie “Big.” It’s [...]

By |September 18th, 2019|general|0 Comments

The correct way to play Miles Davis’s “Four”

Have you ever played the Miles Davis tune “Four?” It’s a fun tune to play, and if you’ve played it, here’s a follow-up question: have you ever played it correctly? And here’s yet another related question: does it even matter if we’ve played it correctly? The reason I’m asking is that first learned “Four” from the old 5th edition of The Real Book, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, both the melody and chord changes were wrong. Actually, I think I did realize it at the time, but I frankly didn’t care enough to do anything about [...]

By |September 16th, 2019|general|0 Comments

How to find the right chord changes for Real Book tunes

I recently read a forum post where someone wrote that, as a professional pianist, he uses The Real Book on recording sessions because he “want to make sure he’s playing the original chords to jazz standards.” Well, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but the fact is that The Real Book, while a valuable resource, doesn’t always have the original chords. Indeed, the book was originally conceived as a way to show the chords that jazz musicians actually played, rather than the “sheet music” chords the composers sometimes wrote. And taking this line of thought further, the original Real Book [...]

By |September 10th, 2019|general|0 Comments

Prince in The New Yorker

Have you seen the article about Prince in the recent issue of The New Yorker? It’s by Dan Piepenbring, who was in the beginning stages of collaborating with His Royal Purpleness at the time of Prince’s death. (Interesting fact: According to his sister, Prince’s favorite color was actually orange, not purple.) The New Yorker article is in the category of “giving us a glimpse into Prince as a person, behind the public persona he so carefully cultivated over the years.” Yes, he was a real person, who practiced piano incessantly while preparing for his solo piano tour. Here’s the article: [...]

By |September 9th, 2019|general|0 Comments