What Time Is It?

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


“Letting go” while playing Ron Carter’s “Eighty One”

Have you ever walked into a room and found yourself having a conversation that you hadn’t planned in advance? Of course you have. We all have. We do this all day, every day. We can improvise conversations because we know our native language fluently. We know it inside and out, as they say, and can string together words and phrases spontaneously, according to the needs of the moment. As improvisers, do we do the same with our music? One interesting aspect of all this is that even though we may “say” that improvisation means not knowing what’s coming next, we [...]

By |May 5th, 2019|general|0 Comments

My piano student’s incredible dream

Have you ever had a dream where you found yourself onstage or at a piano and didn’t know what to play? Or maybe you were acting in a play but didn’t know your lines? A lot of musicians and actors have dreams like these, where you’re expected to perform but don’t know what to do. Recently, one of my piano students, whom I teach on Skype, had a dream that added a delightful perspective to this scenario. Mike is classically trained and has spent the last year or so learning how to improvise. He can now play several Elton John [...]

By |May 4th, 2019|general|0 Comments

The 3 reasons why we practice piano

There are only 3 reasons why we practice piano: 1. We enjoy it. 2. We want to get better at it. 3. There’s an external reason, such as a performance, a test, or someone signed us up for lessons. Any of these will get you there. Which one motivates you the most? 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 required Email Address *

By |May 2nd, 2019|general|0 Comments

The value of S-L-O-W-L-Y practicing John Coltrane’s “Countdown”

As pianists, we often hear about the benefits of practicing written pieces slowly. Perhaps the most famous example is that the Russian composer/pianist Rachmaninoff practices classical pieces such as the Chopin Etudes extremely slowly. Slow practice is a proven way to effectively learn written piano pieces. In fact, I learned all of the Bach 2-Part Inventions by setting the metronome to 40 beats per minute and playing one 16th note per click. As you can imagine, this is extremely slow but I knew that if I could play 16th notes at 40bpm, I could then play them at 42bpm. And [...]

By |May 1st, 2019|general|0 Comments

The Beginner’s Guide To Elton John

The Beginner’s Guide To Elton John by Ron Drotos Because Elton John’s career and musical output is so vast, it can be a little tricky to get a good overview of how his music has evolved over the years. My goal with this Beginner’s Guide is to share some of his biggest hits as well as a few lesser-known songs with you, so that you can “place” each piece within the arc of his development as a musician. Elton initially because famous during the very early 1970s, as part of a wave of singer/songwriters that also included James Taylor, Carole [...]

By |April 30th, 2019|general|0 Comments

Charles Mingus’ “Ecclusiastics” for solo jazz piano

I still remember the moment vividly. I had just begun posting videos in my Journey Through The Real Book series on YouTube, and was several tunes into the letter A. Someone left a comment on one of the videos that said, "I can't wait until you get to 'Ecclusiastics!'" Two things stood out in my mind as I read that: 1. This person must really be a big Mingus fan to even know about a tune like "Ecclusiastics," and 2. The letter E is a long way away! Well, over 2 years later, the big moment has arrived.... “Ecclusiastics” is [...]

By |April 29th, 2019|general|0 Comments

Rock Piano for Beginners

Rock Piano is one of the most fun and exciting styles to play, and I hope you're not one of those aspiring rockers who holds themselves back because they can't play all that fancy stuff that you hear on Elton John and Rolling Stones records. After all, neither Elton himself or any of the great pianists who played with The Stones began with the fancy stuff either. Instead, embrace what I call "Minimum Viable Piano." Minimum Viable Piano, or MVP, is a term I invented to describe the process of starting with the bare bones minimum that you need to [...]

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

A way of understanding Thelonious Monk’s chord progressions

To help us understand Thelonious Monk's chord progressions, and specifically why they're so hard to improvise over, let’s make a musical experiment involving chords and improvisation. With our right hand, let’s play the melody to "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star": Next, we’ll add the song's basic harmonies in our left hand: We have a nice melody, and chords that support the melody and would also be easy to improvise over. Now, let’s reharmonize the melody. We’ll have some fun and intentionally use some chords that are unexpected, to give the melody a whole new flavor: So far so good. But what [...]

By |April 26th, 2019|general|0 Comments

How much music theory do you really need to know?

How much music theory do you really need to know? Really. Do you need to know that some cadences are “perfect,” and others “imperfect?” Do you need to know that the scale you’ve been playing for years is called “The Mixolydian Mode? Do you need to know what “Sonata Allegro Form” is? Here are some possible answers to these questions: 1. Yes 2. No 3. Yes, but you don’t necessarily need to know their names. 4. Who cares about all this anyway? 5. You only need to know what you’ll use. 6. Of course you do! You can pick and [...]

By |April 24th, 2019|general|0 Comments

How written music and piano improv can feed each another

Many pianists seem to think that written music and piano improv are opposites of some sort. But I've always found that written music and improv feed each other, so to speak. You'll learn a written piece and can now see where the composer or arranger was coming from, since you can do this too. And then, when you improvise, you can freely use things you saw in written pieces. There's a flow back and forth between these two things. They're not as alien to each other as many pianists think. In fact, they're coming from the same place, just as [...]

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