What Time Is It?

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


Stress-free piano playing

Although we often hear how “wonderful” it is to play piano, and how “relaxing” is can be, the truth is that not every pianist experiences this. All too often, playing piano becomes the very source of stress we sought to avoid by learning music in the first place! I was reminded of this by an email I received a few minutes ago from a student, who told me that she’s finally learning how to approach playing the piano in a relaxed way after stressing out about it for 40 years. (Bravo, Carole!) For some people it’s a subtle tension and [...]

By |June 21st, 2020|general|0 Comments

Becoming comfortable playing at a slow blues tempo

One of the ironic aspects of musicianship is that many aspiring rock and blues pianists have trouble playing slow tempos. On the surface it seems like it would be easy, right? We usually think “Fast = difficult, slow = easy.” But in reality, it can be very challenging to feel comfortable playing at slow tempos. When we begin analyzing it, we realize that there are a few reasons for this. First, most of our “pianistic upbringing” is about building up to faster tempos. From the time we’re very young, we practice each piece slowly at first and then, as soon [...]

By |June 16th, 2020|general|0 Comments

Thoughts on playing torch songs on piano

Hey everyone! This week I’ve been thinking about “torch songs” because our Journey Through The Real Book has brought us to Duke Ellington’s masterpiece “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good.” There are several, varied definitions of the term “torch song” and the I’ve come to understand them is that they are ballads, often with jazzy harmonies or blues elements, and their lyrics speak of unrequited love or a similar sense of yearning for a better relationship than the person currently has in their life. As someone commented on my YouTube channel today, Frank Sinatra’s “One For My Baby” [...]

By |June 13th, 2020|general|0 Comments

Attaining true fluency with our piano improv

Hey everyone! I began improvising jazz and rock music when I was 15 years old and my friends and I formed a “garage band.” When I think back on those days I feel lucky to have started in such a fun atmosphere, without being frontloaded by too much theory or having someone tell me “You need to learn this,” “You need to learn that.” We just enjoyed ourselves and learned more about chords and scales when we felt stuck. It all unfolded naturally. I also feel fortunate that I still feel as excited about playing music now as I did [...]

By |June 8th, 2020|general|0 Comments

A jazz musician’s fantasy

Do you have a musical fantasy? I started thinking about this a few months ago when I read how someone donated $250,000 to a charity for the opportunity to play drums with the rock group The Who. For one song!!!!! As much as I personally would like to play with The Who, it’ll probably never happen. And going further, none of us will ever get to play with someone like Miles Davis ever again, at least not in person. Luckily, we can play with Miles via his recordings, and even in our own minds. I indulged in this type of [...]

By |June 2nd, 2020|general|0 Comments

Enjoying whatever level we’re currently at

I hope you’re doing well with your piano playing, and enjoying every minute! This is actually an important aspect of music, and much more than “just words.” Every accomplished musician I know get to where they are today because they enjoyed the act of playing music at every step, even when they didn’t sound “good.” Another side to this, of course, is that it’s possible to sound great at any level. The key is to embrace what we can play at the time, and to “own” it. I’ve made a video to show you how to put this into practice [...]

By |May 31st, 2020|general|0 Comments

Learning 2-handed rootless jazz chord voicings

Learning jazz piano is like climbing a mountain: we can either go straight up the incline, or take a more winding, gradual path. The mistake that the majority of aspiring jazz pianists make is they take the path that’s wrong for them at a given time. We can understand this better if we look at rootless 2-handed chord voicings. There’s no question: these voicings are a big part of jazz piano. The challenge is that they’re fairly abstract, and for a beginner, it can be difficult to instantly relate them to the more basic 7th chords they’re derived from. So… [...]

By |May 23rd, 2020|general|0 Comments

5 ways jazz pianists can learn from Louis Armstrong’s “Hot Five” recordings

I’ve been listening to a lot of Louis Armstrong lately, and it’s becoming clearer and clearer to me how much we pianists can learn from his music. In a way, it’s ironic that we even have to remind ourselves of this, since Armstrong is universally acknowledged as a jazz giant like no other. He was there almost from the very beginnings of jazz, and was the catalyst for the development of the jazz solo. And every one of his recordings (almost!) is a masterpiece of musicality and sheer beauty of spirit. While recording my solo piano rendition of the jazz [...]

By |May 17th, 2020|general|0 Comments

3 techniques every jazz pianist can learn from Art Tatum

Art Tatum is such a giant in the jazz world that most jazz pianists despair of ever trying to play like him. I remember attempting to play a Tatum transcription when I was in college and giving up after an hour or so, unable to play even a single measure. It was painful! (By the way, if this is your introduction to Art Tatum’s playing, check out his recording of “Tiger Rag” HEREHERE.) If you feel this way too, rest assured that you and I are not alone. In fact, the stylistic development of every major jazz pianist of the [...]

By |May 12th, 2020|general|0 Comments

25 Ways to Play Steve Swallow’s Jazz Composition “Hullo Bolinas” on piano

Jazz is a marvelously flexible art form, and when combined with an instrument as versatile in nature as the piano, the musical possibilities are endless. Steve Swallow’s composition “Hullo Bolinas” is a great vehicle for exploring the musical and textural range of the piano, since it’s written in a way that doesn’t lock us into any particular genre or style. It’s a short piece, written in the kind of “circular form” that was popularized by Bill Evans in his tune “Blue In Green.” In fact, “Hullo Bolinas” in reminiscent of “Blue In Green” in several ways, including the opening phrase, [...]

By |May 2nd, 2020|general|0 Comments