Tag Archives: music history

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #18: |: Repeating Two Things I Said In AC#15 :|

Regarding improvisation:

1: Anyone who is fluent in any spoken language can learn to improvise and play jazz.
2: People who say, “I can”, and people who say, “I can’t”, are both right!!  

I have a great group of students who frequently bring music to class in which they’re interested and who’ll periodically introduce me to musicians of whom I was not aware. Recently, on such an instance, I was introduced to a superbly wonderful Ukrainian musician and I am now his newest fan! 

While researching this person, I came across a specific statement he made, and that same statement was echoed verbatim by two of his followers, both of whom are amazingly gifted and extremely accomplished young musicians in their own right! The ages of the two young musicians are 12 and 20-something!   

The statement, with which I could not disagree more, originates from an assumption they’ve all made that they “can’t improvise”.  All three of these fantastic musicians say they love jazz and they all believe and say they “can’t improvise”. They say have to “read everything”!

To all three of these beautiful people I say, if you love jazz and you really want to play jazz, please discard the “I can’t” phrase from your vocabulary forever! Then find your way to a person like me who can help you because teachers and players of this music may be found in just about every country throughout the world!  Art Hodes (1904-1993) was a great jazz pianist from Mykolaiv, Ukraine.

I never played in Ukraine but I did play in several communist countries before the “Iron Curtain” was brought down and I’ll tell you that in every country I played, I met some pretty awesome jazz musicians who could improvise very well.   Jazz music is really appreciated and loved around the world.  

Remember. Art Tatum said, “You have to practice improvisation, let no one kid you about it!”  

So it’s going to take some serious work and it won’t happen overnight but if playing jazz is something that you really want, then don’t let some hard work stand between you and your goal and get out of your own way by ridding yourself of the “I can’t” affliction if you have it! Get a coach and get busy! The positive effects it’ll have on your life is well worth the time and investment.

See you next post.

Practice well!


"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #13 Technique: It’s All About Your Goals and Your Body

Are lightning-fast, speedy fingers in your future or will your fingers be marching to the beat of a different drummer? It all depends on you and what you bring to the piano.

Technique, the process of physically moving your hands and fingers around on the piano keyboard, can be a subject that may be approached, examined, and practiced in a very superficial manner, or it can be an area of discipline which requires lots of in-depth study and devotion. Which path is right for you depends on your goals and how far you want to go with piano.

Short Story
Several years ago, a gentleman came into my office out of the blue and asked if I would teach him to play “Happy Birthday” in one month with the stipulation that I not teach him anything about “reading music or any of that other formal piano lesson stuff”. He stated that he was not interested in becoming a pianist. He only wanted to play the song at his young daughter’s upcoming birthday party.

I said “yes”;
I honored his stipulation by teaching it to him note for note by rote;
Week three he had it down; Week four he was party-bound;
He left happy, I was happy; I never saw him again!
End of Story

There have been great literary writers who were “two-finger typists” or didn’t type and all. Their so-called poor typing technique or complete lack thereof did not prevent their creative output from coming through to the world. (By the way, are you a two-finger or touch typist? Test your typing speed here.)

Similarly, there have been great composers and musicians who could not read music or play piano very well at all like Irving Berlin. His so-called poor piano technique did stop him from finding a way to share the 1,250-song output of his compositional genius with the world. It was his choice to dedicate his time and talent to being a specialist in music composition in the manner which he chose.

Like Irving Berlin, you too might become an excellent composer, a “monster” arranger, an “out of this world” orchestrator or an “expoobident” combination of all of those things.

However, if being a “player” is on your “bucket list”, then technique is a subject matter that you will be required to face as you pursue that goal. To emphasize, I’ll say that no matter how much you may know about music in your head, if you are going to be a “player”, your hands and fingers will need to be trained to obtain some level of proficiency in the discipline of piano technique.

If possible, its a good idea to learn the very basic fundamentals of technique because it provides a traditional foundation. But after a while, I feel it is a good thing for you to explore, experiment and try things that may help you develop your own relationship with the piano. Possible points of departure from traditional technique teaching are determined by your own needs and/or the needs of each student.

I don’t subscribe to or believe in the “one-size-fits-all-or-else-you’re-wrong” view that is sometimes set forth because it doesn’t take in to account the fact that the physical size and even the digital composition of peoples hands around the world vary drastically.

For me, technique is a vast area of concentration that needs more than one post to explore it in any real depth so I’ll be visiting this subject matter frequently in Art’s Corner. In working to develop your technique, you and all students are going to be presented with many difficulties and obstacles. If you really have the desire to play this instrument and keep it in your life, then even physical, mental, and emotional challenges don’t stand a chance of getting in your way or preventing you from succeeding.

Check out these videos of some people who, for their own reasons, have developed their own technique and their own relationship with the instrument they so obviously love.

I saw Will Smith quote Henry Ford on an Oprah Winfrey telecast when he said,
“Those who think they can and those who think they can’t are both right”. I couldn’t agree more! Think it! Believe it! See it! Work at it! Achieve it!

See you next post.

Happy practicing!

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #10 Why Do Beginner Music Lessons Start with C instead of A?

Over the years, many of my beginner students have asked why their music books and music lessons start their teaching methodologies with the letter C instead of the letter A.  They feel that since the alphabet starts with the letter A, and since the first seven letters of the alphabet represent the names of the seven basic tones of our musical system (A, B,  C, D, E, F, and G), why shouldn’t their music books and music lessons start with the letter A too?” Good question!

point to A (front view close)point to C (front view)point to C (side view)

The short answer is easy! Major scales are upbeat and happy-sounding scales and the “Cmajor scale has proven to be less confusing to lots of beginner students because it is the only major scale that contains natural keys only– no black keys or accidentals.  

Now there is a scale that starts with the letter A which doesn’t involve any black keys but it is a minor scale.  So, in fact, beginner music lessons could very well start with the letter A. However, that would mean a beginner’s first musical experience would be based on a minor scale.  The minor scale experience is fine for later on, but you don’t want the minor backdrop to be the first musical experience for you or your kid, do you?  Of course not! Listen to what the minor experience would do to Mary Had A Little Lamb and see what it does to your kid’s mood! 

Get Adobe Flash player

I hope this short answer helps explain why I feel that beginner music lessons start with C instead of A.  

Now the longer answer involves taking a look at a little more detail because questions like “What are natural keys?” and “What are accidentals?” need to be defined and examined.  If you are an absolute beginner, let me start your music “edu-ma-cation” with a miniature lesson on piano key names and how the “black keys” first appeared and came to be known as accidentals.

Get Adobe Flash player

The world’s first “piano” keyboards did not have any black keys at all! From one end to the other, there were white keys only! Now imagine the challenge of distinguishing one key from another if you were playing back then on a piano that had a sea of all white keys! Not an impossible task, but I’ll bet it was a real challenge nevertheless. More importantly, as a few centuries passed and the piano keyboard layout with the 7-note music system remained unchanged, the limits that the 7-note, natural-key-only music system was having on melodic and harmonic composition were becoming clearer to musicians and composers. Some type of break-through was needed. Eventually, black keys came to the rescue! The 5 black keys are the original accidentals.

The 7 natural keys combined with the 5 black keys that were added centuries ago, are two key elements that help form the 12-key semitone music system that we use today. Our present system still offers seemingly infinite possibilities, so we should all keep practicing and composing. Let’s get back to work!