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


Exploring the joys of mainstream jazz piano with “My Romance”

Hey Improvisers, As wonderful as it is to develop our unique musical personalities, it can sometimes be fun to simply play a jazz standard in “the tradition.” Case in point: My Romance My Romance, which was composed by the great songwriting team of Rodgers and Hart, has become the epitome of swinging, mainstream jazz piano at it’s best. When I sat down to play it during my Journey Through The Real Book, I decided to ride the wave of mainstream jazz piano, in the tradition of Oscar Peterson, James Williams, and my teacher Billy Taylor. I had a lot of [...]

By |September 25th, 2022|general|0 Comments

Imrpovising on The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever”

Hey Improvisers, Is “Strawberry Fields Forever” the Beatles’ greatest song? Well, whether it is or not, it certainly revolutionized their sound. Producer George Martin recalled how fresh and unexpected the music and lyrics sounded when John Lennon first played it for the group while strumming his acoustic guitar. After a couple dozen attempts at arranging the song, engineer Geoff Emerick amazingly managed to splice together the beginning of one arrangement and the ending of another, which were originally in two different keys and at different tempos as well. The result is a landmark in modern musical history. Here are some [...]

By |September 24th, 2022|general|0 Comments

Piano improv on The Beatles’ “I’ll Follow The Sun”

Hey Improvisers, There are two stages to playing songs by The Beatles on piano. First, we simply get comfortable playing the chords and melody, seeking to emulate the overall feel of the Beatles’ recording. After a while, though, I’ve found that I want to go deeper. After all, we don’t have John and Paul harmonizing along with us, and often, something seems to be missing. What can we do to bring out the magic of these great songs? I’ve found that the answer is to personalize the songs. We can bring something of our “own” to the table, whether it’s [...]

By |September 8th, 2022|general|0 Comments

An essential step when learning jazz waltzes such as “My Favorite Things”

Hey Improvisers, One essential step that many players skip when learning jazz waltzes it to play then straight, as traditional waltzes. Although it may be tempting to plunge right in with your favorite Bill Evans-style jazz waltz rhythm, take a moment to play your favorite ¾ tune as a traditional waltz. You know… 1-2-3, 1-2-3, with an “oom-pah-pah” left hand pattern, One of the reasons why players of the past such as Bill Evans played jazz waltzes so well is that they had so much previous experience playing straight waltzes and even dancing them because waltzes were such a big [...]

By |September 6th, 2022|general|0 Comments

Being inspired to learn a particular song

Hey Improvisers, What do you do when you look at the leadsheet for a tune you’ve never heard? Well, if you’re like most people, you probably turn the page and look for something more familiar. Yet, this approach, while understandable, also limits us. Part of the challenge is that the days are long gone when jazz standards were popular songs. It didn’t take a lot to get Miles Davis to enjoy playing, say, “If I Were A Bell,” because the song was a big hit during the 1950s when Miles recorded it. He heard the song everywhere, and was inspired [...]

By |September 2nd, 2022|general|0 Comments

Piano Improvisation is becoming mainstream again

Hey Improvisers, Once upon a time, in the days of Bach and Mozart, most pianists improvised. They added embellishments to written melodies, created their own accompaniments from figured bass, and learned to improvise preludes, fugues, and variations on folk songs and operatic arias. Gradually, though, improvisation died out in the classical music world, and became associated with specific styles such as jazz, blues, and rock. Nowadays, the situation is changing as pianists all over the world are integrating improvisation into their musical lives in a way that crosses musical genre. Classical pianists are adding synth tracks to Bach 2-Part Inventions, [...]

By |August 29th, 2022|general|0 Comments

Will learning fancier left-hand accompaniments make you a better pianist?

Hey Improvisers, When I begin working with new piano students, I begin by asking them about their musical goals. Often, they’ll say that they want to “improve” by learning a bunch of fancy left-hand accompaniment patterns. Whether they play jazz, rock, pop, or whatever, they dream of watching their left hand fly up and down the lower part of the keyboard under the melodies they play. While I do show them some new patterns to play, the biggest change in their playing comes when I lead them through the process of playing the left-hand accompaniments they already know with a [...]

By |August 28th, 2022|general|0 Comments

3 approaches to playing The Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends” on piano

Hey Improvisers, Playing pop and rock songs on piano can be fun, but sometimes we find that the right approach eludes us. (Incidentally, by “right approach,” I mean the right approach for each of us individually.) I’ve loved The Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends” since the very first time I listened to the Sgt. Pepper album, back in my teenage days. Yet it took me until not to find a way of playing it on piano that I liked. There are two famous recordings of the song, the original recording by The Beatles and the slow, gospel-blues [...]

By |August 28th, 2022|general|0 Comments

Deepening the way you play jazz waltzes on piano

Hey Improvisers, When we sit down to play a jazz waltz, we very often begin by emulating Bill Evans or another great jazz pianist who plays jazz waltzes well. But let’s ask ourselves, how did they themselves learn how to play jazz waltzes? And, would we benefit by approaching jazz waltzes in a similar manner? This is a fascinating topic, because the way we experience waltzes these days is far removed from how someone like Bill Evans would have grown up with waltzes. First of all, Evans, developing his musicianship in the 1940s and 50s, would have heard many traditional [...]

By |August 28th, 2022|general|0 Comments

How to practice Keith Jarrett’s “Moonchild”

Hey Improvisers! Our Journey Through The Real Book has brought us to a tune by one of the greatest improvisers of all time: Keith Jarrett’s “Moonchild.” “Moonchild” is a short-yet-potent early composition by Jarrett, from the Gary Burton & Keith Jarrett album. Recorded in 1970 and released in 1971, the recording captures a vibrant time when jazz musicians were just beginning to combine jazz harmonies with rock and pop grooves. (There were some earlier precedents, but the late 1960s-early 70s were when the fusion movement really took off.) Although the tune is short, it’s a little tricky to become acquainted [...]

By |August 25th, 2022|general|0 Comments