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


A bold chord voicing choice from Art Tatum

Here’s a true story that may surprise you: In the 1980s, my jazz piano teacher Billy Taylor told me that when he studied with the great Art Tatum back in the 1950s, Tatum would sit down at the piano and gladly show him all kinds of wonderful chord voicings. But if Tatum heard Billy use any of these voicings on a gig, he’d stop showing him anything else. In other words, Billy was required to instantly assimilate Art’s concept and use it in his own way. And from what Billy said to me, this wasn’t unusual at that time. All [...]

By |July 27th, 2019|general|0 Comments

Playing “502 Blues” by Jimmy Rowles

Have you ever played Jimmy Rowles' tune "502 Blues?" Jimmy Rowles, although not a household name, is an important jazz pianist whose playing you'll benefit from getting to know. Although he played instrumental jazz with many greats including Lester Young, he was very much in-demand as a vocal accompanist. He accompanied Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae among other famous jazz vocalists of his day. Rowles as also renowned for knowing more jazz standards than anyone else. "502 Blues" isn't actually a blues. Rather, it's a jazz waltz and I'm not actually sure why it's called "502 Blues." But somehow the [...]

By |July 27th, 2019|general|0 Comments

Setting your musical goals for this week

Take out a piece of paper and write down these 3 words, in a vertical column: 1. Melody 2. Harmony 3. Rhythm Then, choose a specific concept or technique about each that you can improv upon. For Melody, it may be melodic variation. Or perhaps you’d like to memorize 2-3 new melodies this week. You could also focus on motivic development during your improvisations. For Harmony, ask yourself how well you know the 4 main types of triads in all 12 keys. Or, if you’re beginning to learn how to “play from chords,” you might learn the chord progression to [...]

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

Some thoughts on musical composition

Actually, no one ever "learns" to compose in the way we might think. Every composer is self-taught in the truest sense. A few things to think about: 1. Sometimes a composition is born from "doodling," and at other times it is an expression of an emotion into sound. 2. Unless we’re taking the basic musical material from another piece, the birth of a composition is mysterious. It often just "comes to us." 3. At some point in every composition, the music begins to sound a little stale. It begins to lose energy. See if you can identify these spots when [...]

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

Merging “Enjoyment” with “Attainment” at the piano

Hi! I’m up in Alaska, midway through two weeks of teaching Piano Improv at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. The midway point in a 2-week festival is interesting, and I like to use it to full advantage in my classes. My piano improv students are all at different levels of ability, and rather then immediately begin with showing everyone new techniques and musical concepts, I decided to take a different route. Beginning with our first class, I started by helping each pianist fully enjoy improvising at the level they were already at. This may sound a bit surprising, until we [...]

By |July 21st, 2019|general|1 Comment

“Oh, that’s just something I heard Herbie Hancock play”

In the “good old days” of jazz, pianists played whatever chord voicings they liked. And there was lots of variety from one pianist to another. So much variety, in fact, that you can tell the difference between Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum largely from what kinds of voicings they play. Same with Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, for that matter. Chord voicings contribute a great deal to a jazz pianist’s unique “sound.” The same thing is true today, of course, but since the rise of “jazz method books” beginning in the 1960s, there’s a false notion among many jazz piano [...]

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

The 3 steps to realizing your musical potential at the piano

We're looking at your long-term development as a pianist here. Viewed over the long-term, the 3 steps to realizing your musical potential at the piano are: Interest, Application, and Persistence 1. Interest: It sounds obvious, but we need to be interested in something to learn it in a real way. Looking at it deeper, we need to be either interested in the musical materials at hand or in developing our pianistic skills. Or both. Without this, we won't get anywhere. 2. Application: We need to actually sit down at the piano and do it. This can mean practicing, playing, jamming [...]

By |July 17th, 2019|general|0 Comments

Pianists: Don’t make three mistakes from one

I'm not sure why, but many piano students stop playing and say "Sorry" when they play a wrong note. As a piano teacher, part of my goal is to relax this tendency in them. After all, I say, they have nothing to be "sorry" about. On the contrary, I'm glad that they're trying hard to play piano and take my musical suggestions, and this in itself is accomplishing the goal. Furthermore, when they stop playing after a wrong note, they've magnified the mistake and made it into two. Then, by apologizing, they've magnified it threefold. Sometimes I'll lighten the situation [...]

By |July 17th, 2019|general|0 Comments

How musicians can learn from Astronaut Abby

I'd like to share with you an article I found to be very inspiring. Amazingly so. It's about a young woman named Abby. When Abby was 11 years old, she dreamed of one day becoming an astronaut and wrote down a detailed plan on what she needed to do in order to accomplish her goal. The inspiring aspect of this is not only how she's followed this plan over the years, but how many people have responded to her passion and enthusiasm by helping her accomplish her dream. I urge you to read the article for yourself, which I've linked [...]

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

“Piano piano!”

I just learned a wonderful Italian saying: “Piano piano.” According to my student Thomas, who is an Irishman living in Italy, “piano piano” means “little by little.” It’s a perfect way of expressing the kind of learning we do at the piano, and I love that it actually contains the word “piano.” And not just once, but twice! So… How do we best learn to play piano? “Piano piano,” of course! Enjoy the journey and “let the music flow!” Ron Enter your email here to get your free copy of my ebook, Pop and Rock Accompaniment for Piano * indicates [...]

By |July 14th, 2019|general|0 Comments