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Developing “rhythmic flexibility” in your jazz piano playing

I’ve been thinking a lot about “rhythmic flexibility” lately, since it’s really the biggest thing that will improve your piano playing. You can learn the most complex licks and voicings in the world and still sound amateurish playing them. But on the other hand, you can play a simple ballad and sound world-class. The difference? Rhythmic flexibility. Vocalists know this. Open the Real Book and look at the first measure of “All Of Me.” Now, listen to about 5 vocalists sing it on Youtube (starting with Billie Holiday.) You’ll notice that they all sing those opening 3 notes with different [...]

By |August 18th, 2017|general|0 Comments

Blues and jazz piano ballads on “Black Coffee”

Have you ever played the tune "Black Coffee?" It's in The Real Book, vol. 1, but long before that it was performed by just about every jazz singer from the late 40s onwards. If you want to hear the definitive version, listen to Sarah Vaughan sing it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRyN9wQ1taY This is Sarah at her best, and we jazz pianists can learn a lot from her approach. First of all, she's into the lyric. Now... any jazz pianist from "back in the day" would have known at least some of the lyrics to the song, because they would have heard it on [...]

By |August 11th, 2017|general|0 Comments

A 10-Week Skype Jazz Piano course

One thing I’ve seen is that a lot of people who’ve begun to learn jazz piano unintentionally hold themselves back. They want to get to a certain level of ability and perhaps play with other musicians but they never seem to learn the core repertoire of tunes well enough to feel confident playing solo or at jam sessions. Or, they’re stuck at a certain level and can’t seem to integrate new techniques into their playing in a natural way. To help everyone with this, I’m offering a 10-week course called Mastering The Real Book! A 10-Week Skype Intensive for Jazz [...]

By |August 9th, 2017|general|0 Comments

Lessons from my Piano Improv Class

Hey everyone! I’m writing from Seward, Alaska, where I’m “resting” after spending 2 wonderful weeks teaching and performing at The Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. I say “resting” in quotation marks, because even though I was pretty tired the day after my end-of-festival concert, I woke up early the next morning, drove 12 hours south to the coast, and went halibut fishing in the Gulf of Alaska yesterday. (2 halibut, 1 silver salmon!) I always have a lot of fun teaching my Piano Improv classes at the festival, and it seems like each year, the class goes in a slightly different [...]

By |August 1st, 2017|general|0 Comments

How not to get frustrated when practicing John Coltrane tunes on piano

Has this happened to you? Even though I’ve been playing piano daily up here in Alaska at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, teaching and performing for many hours each day, my experience in a practice room yesterday morning caught me a little off guard. Since I’ve been playing so much, both in public and in my classes, my finger technique as well as the flow of my improvisations has been as good as it’s ever been. (Yes, this is a good feeling!) So I was unprepared for what happened as I sat down at the piano for some early morning [...]

By |July 29th, 2017|general|0 Comments

Expanding your sense of what’s possible with piano improv

We all have our favorite music. This is a good thing in that it gives us musical ideas and keeps us inspired to keep playing piano and learning new songs and techniques. But, on the other side of the coin, we can unintentionally limit ourselves by listening to the same musical artists over and over, as good as they may be. We can all benefit by expanding our musical horizons from time to time. Here are some ideas (just click on a name to hear some of that artist's music): If you like Adele, listen to some Elton John. If [...]

By |July 19th, 2017|general|0 Comments

Why Developing Rhythmic Flexibility will help your Pop & Rock Piano Playing

I once noticed a curious phenomenon while listening to Bob Dylan. He was performing solo; singing while strumming his acoustic guitar. Here’s the thing: Even though he was strumming his guitar chords in perfect rhythmic time, his singing was the exact opposite. He never seemed to begin his vocal phrase at the beginning of a measure, and he constantly sped up some words and slowed others down, so that I couldn’t predict where any of his sentences would end. (And they always seemed to end either before or after his guitar arrives at the expected chord!) I couldn’t figure it [...]

By |June 24th, 2017|general|0 Comments

The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between

Although 99% of musical instruction is about which notes to play, the most transformative thing you can do for your piano playing isn't about the notes at all: it's about the silence between the notes. Let me ask you a question: When you sit down at the piano, what are you thinking about? Probably the notes, right? As well you should. Yes, we need to play notes. But equally (or maybe, more) important is the space in between the notes. Here's what Mozart said about this: "The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between." The guy [...]

By |June 20th, 2017|general|0 Comments

Immersing yourself in jazz standards

When learning any type of music, it’s vitally important to immerse ourselves in every aspect of the songs we play and the musicians we admire. Not only does this help us improve faster than we may realize, but it also exposes us to recordings and musical interpretations that we might normally miss. And who knows, the next thing you hear may change your musical life forever. By “pre-judging” everything we come across, we’re not only limiting our current enjoyment but also our future progress. As many of you know, one of the big ways I’m personally growing as a musician [...]

By |June 17th, 2017|general|0 Comments

Soloing on the melody like Thelonious Monk

The next time you're playing piano in a jazz group and it's your turn to take a solo, consider trying something "radical": use the tune's melody as the basis for your solo! Maybe you've though about this before, but dismissed it for one reason or another. Or maybe you've tried it but don't actually do it very much. But improvising around a tune's melody can do a lot for your music. Here are a few of its benefits: 1. You'll be connecting yourself to a big part of the early jazz tradition. 2. The audience will enjoy it. 3. Your [...]

By |June 13th, 2017|general|0 Comments