What Time Is It?

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


Sus Is For Suspense (a pianistic bagatelle in prose)

Sus Is For Suspense (a pianistic bagatelle in prose) by Ron Drotos It was a dark and stormy sonata. The pianist hunched over the old, decrepit instrument and expertly coaxed a legato tone from the worn-out soundboard. He feathered the keys with a light touch, and didn't let the broken pedal dampen his mood. The music sounded much better than the elderly lady had expected, and she attributed this to the skill of her visitor. After all, not many young men his age could play a rundown instrument with such sensitivity. She relaxed and smiled faintly as the haunting harmonies [...]

By |October 31st, 2018|general|2 Comments

The joy of playing slow stride piano

Although stride piano is often thought of as being a fast, lively style, there'a whole tradition of slow stride that's not as well known anymore. In fact, one of my Skype piano students was astonished when I played some slow stride for him and suggested that he play the jazz ballads he loves so much in this style. (He was astonished because another jazz piano "teacher" had previously told him that "you can't play stride on ballads.") From the 1920s through the late 1950s, slow stride was one of the major ways to play solo piano ballads. (It may have [...]

By |October 30th, 2018|general|0 Comments

Pianistic “improvement” as a by-product of our interest and enthusiasm

If the only reason we practice piano is to "get better," then we're often setting ourselves up for failure. Instead, let's take a healthier look at the practice/enjoyment/improvement cycle: If you love the act of making music so much that you completely enjoy playing piano at your current level, that's a wonderful attitude to have! It's the same as I have, and this is what helps us get better as pianists, too. We'll stay actively involved at the piano and we will improve almost as a by-product of our interest and enthusiasm. Don't bring yourself down by self-criticism. Enjoy every [...]

By |October 29th, 2018|general|0 Comments

Do you try to play the right notes, or are you just trying to avoid mistakes?

Hi! I was talking to a local little league baseball coach who said something I found very interesting. He told me that every one of the teenagers on his team can hit the ball very well in practice, but in the actual games, some players hit the ball much more frequently than others. When I asked him why this was so, he answered “It’s all in their heads.” I could immediately see the parallel with playing piano. In this spirit, here are some questions to ask yourself, as “food for thought.” Do you try to play the right notes, or [...]

By |October 26th, 2018|general|0 Comments

Darn That Dream: A favorite ballad of the beboppers

Although we don’t often think of bebop as “ballad music,” there were in fact a few ballads that the beboppers loved and frequently played. Darn The Dream, by Jimmy Van Heusen and Eddie DeLange, was one of these favorites. Thelonious Monk played the song, and it was even included, complete with vocal crooning by Kenny Hagood, on Miles Davis’ legendary Birth of the Cool recording sessions. Here’s that version, which was arranged by the group’s baritone saxophonist, Gerry Mulligan. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwKjzMmRrm0 When I was Gerry Mulligan’s assistant in the late 1980’s, he would occasionally end his concerts by putting down his [...]

By |October 25th, 2018|general|0 Comments

Thoughts when sitting down at the piano to play a song

When you sit down at your piano to play a song, what are you thinking? What are you trying to do? How do you view the process? Is the process or the result more important to you? Is it the same each day or does it vary from time to time? What music do you like to play? Do you use the same or a different approach on different songs? How does your mood affect how you play? What’s your ultimate goal? If you haven’t yet read my new ebook, Flowing Water: Play piano with more joy and less stress, [...]

By |October 23rd, 2018|general|0 Comments

The “2 sides of the Coin” when playing songs on piano

Each time we sit down at the piano to play a song, there are “2 sides to the coin,” so to speak. On one side, there’s the song itself. The melody, the chord progression, the lyric, and the general style and musical feel of the song. On the other side, there’s the approach we take with it. Are we going to play it the same way the original artist did, or bring a new interpretation to it? Are we going to play it with a gentle folksy feeling, or are we going to “rock out?” Are we planning the whole [...]

By |October 20th, 2018|general|0 Comments

A musical life

Hi! I hope you’ve been having a good week as we head into this weekend. The first invigorating autumn chill has come to New York City, although the leaves are very late in turning colors this year. In fact, they’re almost all still green! They would normally have turned to bright colors by this time so I’m wondering if they might get a wintery frost without changing at all this year. Well, wither way, I’m enjoying the energy I get at the beginning of each new season here. It’s like the start of a new piece of music. How will [...]

By |October 19th, 2018|general|0 Comments

10 ways the Miles Davis 1960s quintet challenged our musical assumptions

Few groups in jazz have actively sought to challenge their pre-existing musical assumptions as much as the great 1960s Miles Davis Quintet did. Here are some of the questions they asked themselves: 1. Why do jazz musicians always have to improvise over the tune’s chord progression? 2. Why can’t one soloist play over the changes and the next soloist play “free,” on the same tune? 3. Why can’t we leave mistakes on the record? Even big mistakes like when the sax player and bassist get lost and play over different chords for a while? 4. What if we made up [...]

By |October 17th, 2018|general|0 Comments

Why is Autumn Leaves played in the key of E minor?

“Why is Autumn Leaves played in the key of E minor?” That’s the question a reader of my Jazz Pianist’s Guide To The Real Book recently emailed me. (You can read the Autumn Leaves page HERE.) It’s a great question and the fact of the matter is that I don’t really know the answer. What I do know is this: Several generations of jazz musicians played Autumn Leaves in the key of G minor (the first chord is Cm). And then, all of a sudden, newer generations began playing it in the key of E minor (the first chord is [...]

By |October 16th, 2018|general|4 Comments