What Time Is It?

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


Text-painting in Joe Zawinul’s “Midnight Mood”

Hey Improvisers, Have you ever text-painted with your music? Text-painting is when we compose or improvise music that depicts something that’s non-musical, such as the passage in Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony that paints a portrait of a walk in the country. We can paint musical pictures in any genre of music, such as rock, pop, folk, or jazz. Joe Zawinul’s “Midnight Mood” is a natural candidate for text-painting, since the title itself conveys an image of the late night, and whatever feelings we associate with the midnight hour. Here’s a video I’ve made to show you how to get started with [...]

By |July 15th, 2022|general|0 Comments

Do you have to play songs the way the original artists did?

Hey Improvisers, One of the most common piano myths, especially in pop and rock, is that we have to play songs the way the original artists played them. And even though this myth is less pervasive in jazz and other genres, it lurks behind many otherwise creative interpretations. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with playing a song the way the original artist did, but don’t let this limit you in any way. Know that you can play songs any way you like, and be as free and creative as you wish. That’s the main point here. Watch this video to [...]

By |July 12th, 2022|general|0 Comments

Highlighting the jazzy elements of Paul McCartney’s “Michelle”

Hey Improvisers, Paul McCartney grew up playing the music of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and Irving Berlin on the piano during family sing-alongs. He has spoken about how much he loved the lyrics and chord progressions of these 1920s-40s popular songs, and how much they influenced his own songwriting. So it’s perhaps not too surprising that McCartney would occasionally compose songs that sounded like they were composed in an earlier era, instead of the rock era of the 1960s. 1965’s “Michelle” is a great example of this. Paul apparently began composing it a little earlier, as a teenager, and it [...]

By |July 11th, 2022|general|0 Comments

Improvising on Keith Jarrett’s “Memories Of Tomorrow”

Hey Improvisers, If someone asked you to compose a jazzy tune that used straight 8th notes, and included elements of rock, pop, folk, and gospel, what would you come up with? Well, you might compose something that sounds similar to Keith Jarrett’s “Memories Of Tomorrow,” which took the musical world by storm when it was included as Part iiC of his Köln Concert live recording in 1975. The piece stood out on the Köln Concert because it had the structural logic of a pre-composed piece, even though the Köln Concert was billed as a total improvisation. Ever since, as a [...]

By |July 8th, 2022|general|0 Comments

Using melodic inner-voices on Jobim’s “Meditation”

Hey Improvisers, I’ve made a video to show you some pianistic approaches to the great bossa nova “Meditation.” The tune has more musical possibilities than we often hear, so it was a pleasure to explore some of them for you on this video. Pay particular attention to how you can improvise both diatonic and chromatic stepwise inner-voice lines under the melody and your improvisation. Meditation: Journey Through The Real Book #227 https://youtu.be/Y_0eED0v624 Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!” Ron Learn the 5 Essential Left Hand Techniques with my free ebook: Left Hand Techniques for Jazz Piano You'll also [...]

By |July 8th, 2022|general|0 Comments

The Truth about Bebop Scales

Hey Improvisers, If you’ve ever tried to learn to play jazz, you may have heard about bebop scales. They’re actually just regular scales with an added chromatic passing note in them. The Major Bebop Scale, for example, has an added #5 (or b6): C Major Bebop Scale C D E F G G# A B So what’s the big deal about them? (You may ask.) They’re talked about a lot, and they’re often recommended as “essential” scales to learn. I remember once teaching a jazz piano student who wanted to learn bebop. He had been practicing jazz piano for a [...]

By |July 5th, 2022|general|0 Comments

Ideas for playing Weather Report’s “Man In The Green Shirt” as a jazz piano solo

Hey Improvisers, Have you ever tried to play a full band arrangement on piano, as a solo? If you have, then you know the types of challenges that present themselves in this scenario. I recently had this experience while playing Weather Report’s “Man In The Green Shirt,” and I’d like to share some methods you can use when playing solo versions of group songs. Here are some of the questions that arise, along with some solutions: Question: Do you play the bass line exactly as the bass player did? Answer: First of all, Weather Report’s bassist at the time, Alphonso [...]

By |July 1st, 2022|general|2 Comments

Pianists: Should you always sight-read in tempo?

Hey Improvisers, Have you ever heard that “you always have to keep a steady tempo while sight-reading?” This is good advice at times, since when you’re sight-reading in a rehearsal with other musicians, or even during a public performance, you can’t slow down, right? That would mess everybody up. So it makes sense to practice keeping a steady tempo while sight-reading at home. This means that you’ll be prioritizing the tempo, while leaving out some notes when the music becomes too complicated. But it this the only way to effectively practice sight-reading? No, it isn’t, and this is where the [...]

By |June 28th, 2022|general|0 Comments

Improvising on Francis Lai’s “A Man And A Woman”

Hey Improvisers, Have you ever played Francis Lai’s tune “A Man And A Woman?” While it’s not a common jazz jam session tune, it gives us improvisers a lot to work with if we meet it halfway, and not try to force it into a typical jazz mold. “A Man And A Woman” is one of those tunes in The Real Book, Volume 1, that we often pass over. However, it yields rich musical rewards when we sit down at our pianos and actually begin playing it. I found this out myself when I played the song as part of [...]

By |June 28th, 2022|general|0 Comments

Personalizing Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage”

Hey Improvisers, Even though it’s always fun to discover new tunes that we haven’t played before, it’s great to revisit old chestnuts and explore fresh ways to play them. Better yet, we can use these familiar tunes as a way to further develop our own personal approach to playing piano. Our Journey Through The Real Book has brought us to tune #224, which is Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage.” Composed in 1965, five years after Miles Davis’s “So What,” “Maiden Voyage” is to the Mixolydian Mode what “So What” is to the Dorian. Simply put, “So What” will get you started [...]

By |June 24th, 2022|general|0 Comments