What Time Is It?

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

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“Paying it forward” with your piano practicing

Even though the phrase was probably coined way back in 1916, the concept of "paying it forward" still occasionally appears in the news. It means that when someone does something nice for you, you in turn pass it along by doing something nice for someone else. It forms a chain of good deeds from person to person. Music is like this in many ways. We learn a particular technique from one person and teach it to someone else. We absorb the rhythmic beat from a great player we've jammed with and a year later, a younger player absorbs it from [...]

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

A fascinating fact about The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby

For years, when interviewers asked Paul McCartney how he came up with the name Eleanor Rigby for the song of the same name, he told the true story of how he knew someone named Eleanor and knew the name Rigby from somewhere else and put them together. Now… if I told you that in the cemetery of the churchyard where McCartney and John Lennon first met as teenagers, there are a tombstone with the name Eleanor Rigby on it, would you believe me? Yes – it’s true! And Paul McCartney knows it as well. At some point, someone pointed out [...]

By |January 15th, 2019|general|0 Comments

The challenge of improvising over Rhythm Changes

If you’re like me, you didn’t fare so well the first time you improvised a solo over Rhythm Changes. In fact, I was unhappy with the way I played them for years. (But that didn’t stop me from continuing and I still had fun playing, even when it sounded terrible!) Even now, I’m not exactly sure why Rhythm Changes are so challenging to so many jazz players. They’re the chords, or sometimes variations on the chords that George Gershwin used in his 1930 song “I Got Rhythm.” The musical form is a standard AABA, and during the A sections they [...]

By |January 12th, 2019|general|0 Comments

Shadowing the melody on Miles Davis 1958 Stella By Starlight recording

Here's a listening exercise that may change the way you play jazz: Have a listen to the famous Miles Davis Quintet recording of Stella By Starlight, from 1958. (The leadsheet is in the Real Book, so you can follow along with that if you wish.) First, hum the song's melody as Miles plays it. Stay with the original notes and rhythm, even when he plays something different. Then, and this is the important part, keep humming the melody as you listen to John Coltrane's tenor sax solo and Bill Evans' piano solo. What do you discover? And how does it [...]

By |January 7th, 2019|general|0 Comments

The flexibility of playing Beatles songs on piano

A great song is a great song, and as you know, the Beatles wrote a ton of great songs. (Paul McCartney completely deserved the Gershwin songwriting award he received a few years ago!) For us pianists, this gives us some huge opportunities when playing their music. For starters, we can enjoy playing their songs in the same style they themselves recorded them. And going further, we can take a cue from the Beatles themselves and experiment a bit. From alternate takes, demos, and rehearsal recordings, we know that the Beatles enjoyed playing their songs in a variety of ways, and [...]

By |January 4th, 2019|general|0 Comments

Are you resolute?

Are you resolute? Yes, I think you are. Maybe you’re not resolute in the sense of “I’m going to practice piano for 5 hours every single day for the next year,” but yes, you are resolute. Very resolute. You’ve resolved to care for your family. You’ve resolved to help your friends. You’ve resolved to do well at your job. You’ve resolved to eat lunch every day, provided food is available. Have you thought about what all these things have in common? There’s an emotional element to each of them. And they satisfy a real need. When we make a “pie [...]

By |January 1st, 2019|general|0 Comments

Is it the end, the beginning, or both? Musings on the 12-Bar Blues and New Year’s Eve

As I write this, it's early evening on December 31st, otherwise known as "New Year's Eve," and a blues lyric has just popped into my head: "Well here we are again... another New Year's Eve, Well here we are again... another New Year's Eve, I can't wait for midnight to get here.. so this tired old year can leave." That's not a real song, and it's not how I actually feel. I'm just having fun with the rhyme "Eve/leave." At the same time, I'm remembering a "Jazz meets World Music" music workshop I attended at Wesleyan University back in the [...]

By |December 31st, 2018|general|0 Comments

20 Real Book tunes that are based on the blues

Here are 20 Real Book tunes that are either blues, blues-based, or have a bluesy style: Alright, Okay, You Win Au Privave Bessie's Blues Blue Monk Blue Trane Blues For Alice Bluesette Chitlins Con Carne D Natural Blues Equinox Footprints Freddie Freeloader Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You Mr. PC Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out Pfrancing (No Blues) Road Song The Sidewinder Straight No Chaser Twisted Blues Learning these tunes will give you a good experience in playing a wide variety of blues-based jazz styles, ranging from traditional blues to bebop, and jazz waltzes to contemporary [...]

By |December 30th, 2018|general|0 Comments

Going out of our comfort zones

The only way for us to truly grow as musicians is to go out of our comfort zones, at least occasionally. Depending on what our individual comfort zone is, this can mean simply practicing a new type of music or it may mean going to the local nightclub and sitting in on a jam session. Or, we might put on a recording and try to play along, without knowing the musical key or chord progression in advance. But whatever it is, we need to sometimes go out of our comfort zones in order to become better pianists and well-rounded musicians. [...]

By |December 29th, 2018|general|0 Comments

10 piano blog posts to ring in the New Year

As the earth completes its yearly revolution around our nearest star, I’ve looked through my 2018 blog posts and found my 10 favorites. Here they are: 1. The Tortoise, the Hare, and the Snail A riff on the famous tale. 2. Playing through The Real Book tune by tune Practice suggestions for playing through a wide variety of repertoire, at whatever level you’re currently at. 3. A stride piano jazz cover of the Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four” Paul McCartney’s classic song really lends itself to a full stride piano treatment. 4. What does “I’m no good at that” really mean? [...]

By |December 28th, 2018|general|0 Comments