What Time Is It?

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


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

The Inner Game of Piano Improvisation book

Hey Improvisers, Wow - the first few days of my book’s publication have been amazing! Thank you to everyone who has grabbed their digital copy of The Inner Game of Piano Improvisation. It’s the #1 New Release in the Piano Instruction category and it’s very gratifying to hear how readers are enjoying it so much already. Here’s an interview that the Emmy Award-winning TV producer and author Peter Berkow did with me about the book. Peter has interviewed many famous authors and really got me to open up and talk about the process of improvising. Ron Drotos interviewed by Peter [...]

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

A 4-Step Method for practicing fast jazz tunes

Hey Improvisers, We’ve all struggled to play fast, uptempo tunes, and if the tune’s chord progression is complex, it even more difficult to keep up with the pace. Yes, it’s challenging, but attainable with the right approach. Here’s a 4-Step Method I’ve developed to help you become comfortable improvising on those fast, uptempo jazz tunes that give us all some trouble from time to time. I use this method myself and it works wonders! Here’s the method: 1. Playing out of tempo, with the goal of hearing our way through the chord progression. 2. Playing simple melodic lines, at a [...]

By |August 22nd, 2022|general|0 Comments

Insights and perspectives on playing Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo”

Hey Improvisers, A few days ago, I sat down and played Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” on video, and I think it may be my Real Book performance yet. All the planets seem to have lined up for this one: Duke Ellington is one of my musical idols and his harmonies have greatly influenced my playing, I’ve played the tune countless times in public and sometimes for audiences with as many as 25,000 listeners at jazz festivals, and it’s the type of slow, bluesy groove that comes completely naturally to me. There’s also a lot of healthy perspective in the comments [...]

By |August 18th, 2022|general|0 Comments

Improvising on The Beatles’ “Oh! Darling”

Hey Improvisers, One of the great things about The Beatle’s music is how it draws on so many types of musical influences. In the case of “Oh! Darling,” the primary influence is good old 1950s early rock and roll. The Beatles were teenagers during the 1950s, and the music of that time really inspired them to go into music themselves. They loved the doo-wop of groups like The Drifters, the harmonies of the standard songs of George Gershwin and Cole Porter that were still on the radio at that time, and the lively blues-based rock and roll of Chuck Berry, [...]

By |August 16th, 2022|general|0 Comments

Approaching Wayne Shorter’s “Miyako”

Hey Improvisers, Have you ever played any of Wayne Shorter’s compositions? If so, you’ve probably played “Footprints,” and perhaps “Speak No Evil” or “Witch Hunt.” Those are all great tunes and among his most popular and most approachable. But after you’ve played those, keep going. Shorter has written many wonderful pieces and they’re all right there, waiting for us to discover them! I was first introduced to Wayne’s music when I took lessons with the jazz pianist Harold Danko, back in the 1980s. Harold had learned to play jazz during the 1960s, when Shorter was with The Miles Davis Quintet, [...]

By |August 16th, 2022|general|0 Comments