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

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2 tips to help you avoid feeling overwhelmed when practicing piano

Hey Improvisers! It’s very common these days to feel overwhelmed when we sit down at the piano. And yes, this is understandable because there’s so much we could practice. If we feel all of this at once, then we’ll usually feel overwhelmed. We pianists, however, deserve better. Much better. The piano is such an amazing instrument, we want to feel excited each time we sit down to play. Let’s begin by reminding ourselves that it’s called “PLAYing the piano!” If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by everything you’re being told you have to learn, then let’s reverse the situation. First [...]

By |August 22nd, 2021|general|0 Comments

September’s schedule

Hey everyone, I’m looking ahead to September, when I tend to get a lot of inquiries about Zoom piano lessons. If you’ve been thinking that you’d like to start studying with me, just let me know and we’ll put something on our schedules. I take as many students as possible but there were about 2 months last year when I had to start a waiting list for the first time. With adult piano students, I feel that the main priority is that the study of piano fits in with the person’s lifestyle as much as possible. For instance, if someone [...]

By |August 8th, 2021|general|0 Comments

Joyful Persistence

Hey Improvisers! We’ve all heard about the need for persistence. Perseverance. Slow and steady wins the race. Yes, we know it’s true. But sometimes we associate the idea of persistence with a kind of weary uphill slog. As pianists, we’re lucky because music is so joyful. If we can remind ourselves of this at each step of the way, each day, then our musical journey becomes one of joyful persistence. Yes - Joyful Persistence. That’s the “ticket!” My annual stint in Alaska at The Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival ended yesterday and I was reminded of joyful persistence many times during [...]

By |August 1st, 2021|general|2 Comments

Greetings from Fairbanks!

Hey Improvisers, Well, I’m midway through my 2-week stint here in Alaska, teaching and performing at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. It’s wonderful to be back here after missing last summer due to travel restrictions, and this is an important year for the festival in terms of continuity. Just like with music, an organization such as the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival needs to keep it’s momentum and I’m delighted to be helping this great festival continue into the future. On Wednesday, the vocal performance class I’m teaching gave a lunchtime concert at a local community center and it felt great [...]

By |July 26th, 2021|general|0 Comments

Rejuvenation

Hey Improvisers! I’ve just arrived here in Fairbanks, Alaska, where I’ll be teaching and performing for the next two weeks at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. I’m excited to be here for at least two big reasons. Firstly, I’ve been coming here every year since 1999 but had to skip last summer due to Covid-related travel restrictions. Fairbanks has become a kind of “home away from home” for me so it’s great to be back! The second reason why I’m excited to be here is that it’s an opportunity for me to refresh and rejuvenate my music and piano teaching. [...]

By |July 17th, 2021|general|0 Comments

Developing a positive frame of mind and a Max Roach story

Hey Improvisers, When I was a teenager, I became serious about learning piano. And although I didn’t know it at the time (in the late 1970s/early 80s), I enjoyed a huge advantage over many of you who are reading this: I didn’t see or hear many note-perfect performances. In fact, I didn’t see or hear many performances at all! As with anything else, there are two sides to this coin, so to speak. On the one hand, today’s aspiring pianists can hear more wonderful recordings that ever existed before, and watch countless hours of inspiring videos of pianists playing the [...]

By |June 26th, 2021|general|0 Comments

The joy of playing our favorite songs on piano

Hey Improvisers! There are two sides to becoming a fluent piano improviser. One side involves practicing concepts and techniques. Learning the scales, modes, chord voicings, and bass lines that are associated with each genre of music. The other side of the coin is to play our favorite songs. Songs by George Gershwin, The Beatles, Charlie Parker, Adele, George Winston, Antonio Carlos Jobim, etc. Both sides are necessary, and the overall idea is to gradually bring them together. Here’s one of my all-time favorite songs. It’s the classic “It’s Easy To Remember” by the songwriting team of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz [...]

By |June 12th, 2021|general|2 Comments

Playing It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) as a jazz piano solo

Have you ever noticed how each style of music has its own special “groove,” or rhythmic feeling? It’s like a unique frequency, and in a way, this groove is what distinguished one genre from another. A reggae song and a pop tune may have exactly the same chords, but they sound (and feel) totally different. Groove…. Feel….. Vibe…. Rhythm… Flow…. Swing!!! Yes, swing. The term “swing” is usually used when referring specifically to jazz, where the 8th notes are slightly (and deliciously) uneven. But “swing” can also be used in a looser sense, to mean a certain relaxation and flow [...]

By |June 4th, 2021|general|0 Comments

A new Journey Through The Real Book video

I’ve just posted a video of me playing the tune “Israel,” which was made famous on Miles Davis “Birth Of The Cool” recording. The “Birth Of The Cool” sessions have a special place in my heart because I was Gerry Mulligan’s assistant from 1987-88. Gerry, along with his fellow arrangers Gil Evans, John Lewis, and John Carisi (who composed “Israel), had the vision for a small jazz group whose sound was based on that of the Claude Thornhill big band. Miles Davis loved the Thornhill band too and the rest, as they say, “is history.” “Israel” is a beautiful harmonic [...]

By |May 29th, 2021|general|0 Comments

Getting started

I get a lot of questions about all styles of piano improv, from jazz to pop to blues to classical, and they usually follow a general theme: “How do I get started?” This is key: The question “How do I get started” is paramount for we improvisers, and it’s not just at the very beginning stages. “How do I get started” playing left hand bass lines with varied rhythms? “How do I get started” applying diminished voicings to chord progressions? “How do I get started” playing bebop over a rhythmically vibrant left hand? “How do I get started” improvising on [...]

By |May 21st, 2021|general|0 Comments